This year The Houston International Quilt Festival celebrated its 40th anniversary with a special exhibit “The Ruby Jubilee”. Rubies are a traditional anniversary gift celebrating forty years of marriage. The strong textile tradition of red and white quilts made this years exhibition a fitting and awe inspiring choice.
Red and white quilts became popular in the 1850s because of an expensive but colorfast and bleed proof fabric dyed with madder that came to be known as turkey red. The cloth was not of Turkish origin but was named so because of its origins in the East. The reds held their color and stood the test of time with wear and tear.
The popularity of red and white quilts, and the fact that they still retained their color over time, has made them highly collectable quilts. A prolific collector, Joanna Rose, shared her collection of 651 red and white quilts in an exhibition, “Infinite Variety,Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts” with the American Folk Art Museum in 2011. This exhibition served as the inspiration for the Ruby Jubilee.
The collection of quilts hung in Houston mirrored the same format at Rose’s collection. The Ruby Jubilee quilts span from 1974 to the present and encompass traditional quilts like the iconic Dear Jane all the way to more contemporary pieces with asymmetry and text. The juxtaposition of the two, side by side, made it feel like a wide community of quilters had come together and spoken the same language.
Lauren and I were lucky enough to get to see the exhibition while we were at Quilt Market, which always happens the weekend before festival. Market is a hustle and bustle of work and activity. It is exciting, overwhelming, exhilarating, and stressful all at the same time. Walking through the Market floor is a sensory overload and then you can just step over to the exhibition and it is almost as if time stands still. Voices are hushed. The frantic pace of running from booth to booth, appointment to appointment, is replaced by a slower steps to take in one of the most significant quilt exhibitions in the world.
It is really hard for me to see such a dramatic display and it not have an impact on my own work. The Infinite Variety exhibition spawned an interest in red and white quilts to the point that it inspired entire fabric lines devoted to reproduction turkey red prints. Some of those lines are still being produced. It will be interesting to see what effect this exhibition has on modern quilting.
So, now to dig out some reds in my stash.