A classroom with long, wide tables sits in the corner of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. On each surface is a stack of quilts faded with age. Vibrant blues have turned into dingy blue-greens, and whites have aged to look faintly coffee-stained. Some look fluffy, plush and relatively untouched, while others are thin or flat from use. Around the edges of the room hang larger quilts dating from as far back as the 1930s to as recent as the 2010s. Yet more from as early as the 1800s are kept safe and out of sight, protected by the center’s staff. Each quilt tells a story through the fabric, design and technique.
Quilting has persisted through time to bring people, primarily women, together. One of the more popular quilts in the collection, Block Challenge No. 1, is an example of the unifying power of quilts throughout history. This piece began with a single square. The first block was made by Karen Nyberg, an astronaut on board the International Space Station in 2013. After sharing her work from outer space, she received a global response from fellow quilters.
“(Quilts are) collections of women’s stories,” says Jill Morena, the center’s registrar for exhibits and material cultures. “Men do quilt, but historically, even now, it’s a woman’s endeavor.”
The center holds the Winedale Quilt Collection, consisting of 900 parcels spanning two centuries. Ima Hogg, daughter of Jim Hogg, governor in the 1890s, was the first woman to donate. Since then, subcollections were classified to delineate donors, origins and eras.
“(Hogg) was really interested in preserving the work of craftspeople in Central Texas,” Morena says. “That included furniture, cabinetmakers, toolmakers — just really all the material culture of that time, namely the 19th century, and so quilts were part of that.”