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String-pieced Quilts of the Past and Present

String-pieced Quilts of the Past and Present

Written by: 
Linzee McCray

I’m pleased to share an exhibition currently at the Iowa Quilt Museum—String Theory: String-pieced Quilts from Past to Present. (Quilts below from the collection of Roderick Kiracofe)

Wall of vintage quilts from collector Roderick Kiracofe

The exhibition opened on January 5 and runs until March 21. If you’re not able to make it make it in person to Winterset, Iowa, the museum is offering lots of free conversations with the collectors and artists who contributed work for the exhibition and a virtual tour for $6. Visit the museum’s website for links to these and more. (Quilts below, left to right, by Bonnie Hunter, Sujata Shah, Ann Brauer, and Tara Fauhnan)

String-piecing exhibition IQM contemporary quilts

The museum sits on the courthouse square of Madison County (famed for its covered bridges and as the birthplace of John Wayne). Its tall ceilings and versatile layout make it the perfect place to view quilts. Exhibitions change quarterly, and I’d like to tell you about this one, which I curated. (Quilt below by Fern Royce) 

Fern Royce star from IQM string piecing exhibition

 I’ve always been attracted to the waste not-want not school of quilting. String piecing likely derived from the desire to use up every last bit, including the narrow strips of fabric that were too small to be used in traditional quilt blocks. (Quilt below from the collection of Roderick Kiracofe)

String-pieced star quilt IQM exhibition Roderick Kiracofe collection

 When my mom passed away and I was cleaning out her sewing room—she sewed exquisite garments—I found the bundles of long narrow “strings” that she’d carefully wrapped up to save and a lightbulb went off. These were the scraps of fabric leftover from sewing clothing. I learned later from Barbara Brackman that clothing manufacturers would sell “quilt bundles” of scraps and there is a quilt in the exhibition, owned and finished by Teddy Pruett, that includes seersucer scraps, some with labels, that were likely obtained from a pjama manufacturer (it's on the wooden wall in the center of the photo below and the second photo shows a label sewn into the quilt).

Kiracofe quilt, Pruett pajama Easy Access quilt, Bonnie Hunter Straits of Mackinac quilt Iowa Quilt Museum

Label from Teddy Pruett quilt made of pajamas Iowa Quilt Museum


One of my goals in curating the exhibition was to show the wide range of settings that are possible with this versatile technique (Ann Brauer's quilt below).

Ann Brauer sun Iowa Quilt Museum string-piecing exhibition

While there are published patterns that include string piecing—Rocky Road to Kansas, published in 1890 is one—the majority of string-pieced quilts don’t follow a prescribed pattern. I also wanted to include antique/vintage and contemporary quilts. I hope you enjoy the exhibit, whether it be in person or virtually! (Detail of Teddy Pruett's "flags" quilt below)

Detail Teddy Pruett "flags" quilt Iowa Quilt Museum string-piecing exhibition

Huge thanks go to contributors, both collectors and artists, for sharing such a wonderful variety of quilts that use this technique: Teddy Mc Mahon Pruett; Sujata Shah; Roderick Kiracofe; Sarah Nishiura; Bonnie K Hunter; Siobhan Furgurson; Fern Royce; Tara Faughnan; Ann Brauer; and Sheree L. Jimmerson.