East Tennessee families treasure quilts made by their ancestors. Besides warming and decorating the bed, quilts also serve as reminders of important events—births, weddings, service to our country, the death of loved ones. Often, these memories are preserved in notes attached to the quilts or through stories handed down to younger generations. Sometimes notes are lost and memories fade, leaving families with a “mystery quilt.”
Did Grandma Jones or Granny Smith make this quilt? Or, was it Aunt Jane? When did she make it? Why did she choose this pattern? What caused this stain or that tear? These are some of the mysteries that quilt historians try to address through genealogical research and technical analysis.
From histories handed down to mysteries that remain, the new feature exhibition at the Museum of East Tennessee History provides visitors the opportunity to learn the “Stories in Stitches” from the quilts that have been entrusted to the East Tennessee Historical Society. Stories in Stitches features more than two dozen quilts with dates ranging from c. 1820 to 2001. The exhibition will be on display in the Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery of the East Tennessee History Center from Aug. 7, 2017, through Jan. 2, 2018. Stories in Stitches is dedicated to Linda Claussen and Ginny Rogers for their years of service and support of the East Tennessee Historical Society’s quilt collection.
When the East Tennessee Historical Society was founded in 1834, early collection efforts focused on books and manuscripts. In more recent decades, objects began to be added, and the idea of displaying them in a museum grew. The ETHS Permanent Collection acquired its first quilt in 1992, one year before the Museum of East Tennessee History opened on the first floor of the renovated Customs House. Now a part of the expanded East Tennessee History Center, the museum and its collection includes more than 100 quilts.
The ETHS Permanent Collection focuses on quilts made or used in one of East Tennessee’s 35 counties. An acquisitions committee reviews potential additions, evaluating the quilt’s history, condition, and importance to the collection as a whole. Some quilts are displayed in the museum’s signature exhibition, “Voices of the Land: The People of East Tennessee.” Others are cared for in climate-controlled…