Sunday, December 16, 2018

Quilt Research Collection at the University of Nebraska

Newspaper pattern from 1889

Fragile scrapbook of newsprint quilt patterns. 
Newsprint is among the most ephemeral of paper products, designed to deteriorate.

We quilt historians have long been aware of the anxiety common to collectors of ephemera---that their heirs will not see the value of the material (it is, after all, ephemeral) and compost it.

Few institutions collect 20th century needlework history.

Even enlightened heirs are faced with a dilemma. What library or museum would want it?

Joyce, Cuesta and me (a l-o-o-ong time ago)

Merikay Waldvogel and I, a generation younger than our late friends Cuesta Benberry and Joyce Gross, have been discussing this since Cuesta and Joyce started worrying thirty years ago. Fortunately their files went to interested institutions. Joyce's papers are at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas and Cuesta's at the Great Lakes Quilt Center at Michigan State University.

Now that we ourselves are worrying, Merikay and I have been working with the University of Nebraska/Lincoln, home to the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.

Archives and Special Collections in the University Libraries has established a Quilt Research Collection located in the Library Depository Retrieval Facility, a new building opened last year at the edge of the UNL East Campus. There is a reading room for researchers and a fabulous storage facility that can house 900,000 volumes.

Libraries are following technology developed in commercial warehouses.
Quilt collections material is retrieved with a mechanical picker from the
3-story high shelving.

The collections now include donations from eminent quilt researchers such as Sally Garoutte, Eli Leon, Eve Wheatcroft-Granick, Katy Christopherson, Sharon Newman, Dorothy Cozart and Pat Ferraro & Julie Silber. Merikay recently donated the enormous pattern collection of Mildred Dickerson. At least two state project files Oklahoma's and Nebraska's are there.
Quilt article from Wide Awake magazine 1890

One long-term goal is to digitize selected materials from the archives so that items like rare published quilt patterns are accessible on line. Once digitized the original files will remain in Archives & Special Collections where they will continue to be available to readers.

Merikay at her 2009 induction into the Quilters Hall of Fame

Merikay and I are thrilled that our files will have a permanent home at an academic institution, particularly one associated with the world's leading quilt museum, the International Quilt Study Center & Museum.

Another goal is to catalog the quilt collections by hiring a person dedicated to the project. We want to fund a salary for a library staff member who understands quilt history and directs the cataloging and digitization for several years. We have been working with the University of Nebraska Foundation, which now has a special account for donations for that Quilt Research Collection salary.

Mail checks to 
 University of Nebraska Foundation
1010 Lincoln Mall, Suite 300
Lincoln, NE 68508 

In the Memo line and in a note include the information:
Quilt Research Collection Fund #01147420

We'd, of course,  like you to donate financially. It's a tax exempt organization and the perfect place for your annual Qualified Charitable Distribution from your IRA. (Don't worry your pretty little heads about that information if you are under 70.)

You can also donate using an online form by clicking here: Enter your email and see a page dedicated to the Quilt Research Collection. If you'd like an electronic funds transfer (EFT) rather than a charge scroll down and click on Debit.

We also want you to consider donating your own quilt history files. Merikay and I are particularly interested in scrapbooks. But then again, correspondence between quilt historians is a favorite topic. 

Newcomb Looms pattern cards

And we'd like to include EVERY QUILT PATTERN EVER PUBLISHED. (Oh wait, I'm getting carried away with my wish list.) Well, you get the picture. Everything ever written about quilts---and they have room for it.

Think about your own quilt history collection large or small and donating it now or in the future. If you'd like more information on the Quilt Research Collection donation guidelines I'd be glad to email a description to you. Contact me at MaterialCult@gmail.com. And if you are interested in making a financial donation I'd be glad to discuss that with you too.


  1. Being a librarian, a quilter, and a lover of ephemera,I am excited by this wonderful accomplishment. It is rare to find the happy conjunction of interest, space, collections, and (soon-to-be) staff. Thank you for making it happen.

  2. I sent a donation with the hope that it’s credited to this fund.

    I rarely write checks anymore; I have my bank send EFTs. There’s not much functionality on the bank site for designating things like “special accounting instructions”. Perhaps the powers that be at the IQSC can persuade the Foundation to add this Fund to their donation web pages

    here: https://www.quiltstudy.org/visit/support

    and here: https://nufoundation.org/unl/international-quilt-study-center-museum

    I’d hate to see potential donors discouraged by the process.

  3. I'm also a librarian, quilter, and admirer of material culture (in general) as well as your Material Culture. Thanks for the information about the IQSC archives (love the photo of the high-density stacks!) and the encouragement to contribute.

  4. As much as we would like to put this sort of thing "off" now is better than never. I have hit the magic "70" and am thinking of donating my required payment each year.... this is very good information. I have enjoyed quilting for years... not just the quilting part but the people part. Barbara you are part of the people part.

  5. I am so excited about this! I am not much of a collector (except for fabric) but I do have a few things tucked away that I will have to revisit and send your way. In the meantime, I will send a check to the University for your endeavors!

  6. What a fabulous plan you have put in place. It is exciting to know that quilting history will be preserved. Well done!!!!

  7. I am so excited about this project! Thank you so much Barbara and Merikay for being the catalysts to help bring this about. I have just sent my check off as a donation to this special quilt ephemera archival project and plan to support it each and every year.

    1. All my paper, cloth, etc., will go to the Quilt Index eventually. It’s now written in stone in our Trust.

  8. Hi Barb, the photo of you and Joyce and Cuesta was taken in Marion, Indiana, during a panel discussion at the grand opening of
    The Quilters Hall of Fame in July 2004.

  9. We also need to raise funds to digitize the Oklahoma Heritage Quilt Project, the state quilt documentation project completed in 1987. There are some real quilt gems in this archive and they need to be available for historical research. Thanks for sharing this news on the archive at UNL Barbara and Merikay! It gladdens my heart!

  10. Naw a days we lost our culture.your research inspire the other I think.

  11. Jan Stehlik's "ephemera" will all be donated to the International Quilt Museum as soon as it is sorted and boxed. Jan's daughter, Bonnie Wagner, has been working with the museum to make sure the museum can use and wants her research papers, patterns, books, etc. Just thought you would like to know.

  12. Are you interested in original clippings of quilt patterns printed in the Omaha World-Herald in the 19teens - 1940s? I don't have all of them, but I have quilt a few.

  13. Atta'girl(s)! So glad you asked, my check will be in the mail today.