AQSG: Serious study with a dash of fun

From AQSG’s 2018 seminar
Ann Dagge’s quilt – tour of Smithsonian Art History Museum
Patricia Smith Collection

Do you love knowing the story behind a quilt? And just looking at beautiful quilts? Check out the American Quilt Study Group!

The organization (also known as AQSG) was formed in 1980 in Mill Valley, California, to preserve the story of quiltmaking, both past and present. Nearly 40 years later, the group is going strong. 

AQSG member Sandra Starley says of joining the organization in 2005 “It was one of those finding-your-tribe kinds of things. You can look at a quilt in isolation, but there’s so much to be learned when you share quilts and what you know about them.” 

AQSG takes quilt history and research seriously. They publish the quarterly Blanket Statements that includes research articles, along with news of the quilt world, new books, and listings of exhibitions and shows.  Two recent articles were “Hidden Treasures: What’s Really Inside My Quilt” by the aforementioned Sandra Starley, about finding unexpected quilt fillers and batting alternatives in old quilts and “A Red Cross Quilt from Sugar Grove, Virginia” by Neva Hart, about quilts created in WWI to raise money for the Red Cross. 

Uncoverings, AQSG’s annual journal, has covered topics like “The Mystery of the Harlequin Star Quilts: Finding and Naming a Previously Unidentified Regional Design” by Kathleen L. Moore, and “Baltimore Album Quilts: New Research” by Debra Cooney and Ronda Harrell McAllen. 

Popular talk/trunk show by Mimi Dietrich – appliqué quilt expert-AQSG seminar 2018

These titles indicate the seriousness of intent of AQSG members and strong, well-supported quilt research is an AQSG hallmark. To further quilt research, the organization offers mentoring for those who are intrigued by a particular quilt or quilt-related topic, but worry they don’t have the skill set to study it in depth and to share those studies. They also offer grants to help researchers cover some of the costs of those efforts. And members have access to 40 years Uncoveringsabstracts, via an online, searchable database. 

Each year at the group’s annual seminar members gather to share research in person, to view quilts and exhibitions in nearby venues, and to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Sandra notes that as the event moves around to different parts of the country, attendees are exposed to a variety of regional quilting styles. And though the research presentations are academic in nature, the group is ultimately bound by a shared love of antique quilts and is not immune to laughter and hijinks. 

Crowds at bed turnings, quilt display-AQSG 2018 seminar
Brian and Donna Ruppert Collection

The event’s annual fundraising auction is led by quilt dealer Julie Silber and bidding is encouraged by her sidekicks, the Juliettes. “We’re the Vanna Whites of the auction and usually we’ll dress up,” says Sandra, who is an attorney, pattern-designer, AQS certified quilt appraiser, and lecturer on antique quilts. “In Wisconsin, we wore cheeseheads and in New England it was wreaths made of fall leaves.”  Another clue to the nature of the members is the whimsical title of the 2016 Uncoverings article “Mary Catherine Lamb: Lady of Perpetual Garage Sales,” by Susan A. D. Stanley. Quilt study is no joke, but that doesn’t mean AQSG members lack a sense fun. (Quilt research isn’t limited to antique quilts—Mary Catherine Lamb, who lived from 1949 to 2009, made vivid and eccentric quilts depicting saints that influenced the art quilt movement.)  

While AQSG’s work is academic in nature, Sandra Starley emphasizes that it’s not necessary to be a scholar to join and benefit from AQSG membership. “We have a lot of people who join because they love quilts and make quilts and want to gain more knowledge. There’s so about American culture you can learn from studying old quilts.”

Next week we’ll post about AQSG’s biennial quilt challenge, where members create quilts based on antique quilt inspiration. Stay tuned! And are you an AQSG member? We’d love to hear what the group means to you. 

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4 thoughts on “AQSG: Serious study with a dash of fun

  1. Thank you Moda and Linzee Kull McCray for helping spread the word about the American Quilt Study Group. I hope others are inspired to join in the FUN and see a lot of amazing quilt treasures and great people too.
    AQSG is such an amazing group and has done so much to increase the collective knowledge base of American quilt history.

  2. AQSG offers something for everyone who loves quilts and is interested in their history. I joined in about 2009 and have never looked back. Seminar is the highlight of my year. There are so many nice, helpful, interesting people and so much to see and do. I especially love the tours of collections and museums, the presentations, and the classes. But who can resist the vendors and the auctions where there are so many wonderful pieces of history you can make your very own! AQSG is the best!!!

  3. I can thoroughly concur with Sandra Starley’s comment on “finding her tribe” in AQSG. I have been a member of AQSG for many years. I even served on the board for 8 years including 2 as President. I have learned so much from the many wonderful scholars and even those folks new to quilt history. I always say i’m getting a graduate level education just by participating in AQSG. In addition to the fabulous wealth of knowledge among the members I found that they are also some of the kindest & most caring of people. When I lost my husband during my tenure as President the support & concern I got from the members (many of whom l didn’t know) was such a source of strength through a most difficult time. Every quilter should be part of this wonderful, amazing group.

  4. Thank you for this article on AQSG. I joined in 2015 as a student of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln History of Textiles with emphasis in Quilt Studies graduate program. The quilt scholars I studied were/are active in AQSG – and to meet them in person was fabulous. A two-year program gave me a wonderful foundation, and membership in AQSG continues my education (and quilt collection!).

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