The International Quilt Museum’s newest exhibition is showcasing the oldest quilts in its collection.
“Old World Quilts,” which opens Sept. 6, features more than 20 never-before-displayed quilts made in the 1600s and 1700s.
Created in Asia and Europe, the quilts show how trade routes between the continents shaped the production, materials and design of textiles in Europe. Likewise, the popularity of certain textiles in Europe shaped the market in Asia as makers appealed to their new customers.
“What is most compelling is that these quilts show the connection between Asia, South Asia and Europe that occurred as early as the 17th century,” said Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections. “The design elements we see later in American quilts are the result of global trade that began in the 1600s.”
The museum’s two earliest quilts are included in the exhibition. Probably made in the Mediterranean region of Europe around 1600, the pair of quilts feature yellow silk tops, red backs and ornate designs stitched into the material. While there is little information available about these quilts, they are similar to six other known pieces that survive from the period.
Exhibiting the oldest quilts created some unique challenges for the museum. To prevent further damage to these fragile pieces — and to ensure they survive for future generations — the museum staff used a variety of display techniques, including flat mounts, slat boards and rolls.
With the unique nature of the exhibition, the museum is using the display to educate visitors about techniques required to preserve textiles. For example, the museum keeps its galleries and storage facilities at a steady temperature and humidity level to prevent environmental damage. The museum also reminds visitors to avoid touching any quilt on display, because handling historical textiles can cause irreparable breaking in the fibers.
The exhibition officially opens on Sept. 6 in conjunction with First Friday. The museum will offer free admission to “Old World Quilts” and its other galleries from 4 to 7 p.m. Sept. 6.
“Old World Quilts” is showing in the museum’s West Gallery through July 12.