The Quilt Index is a program of Matrix: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University. This resource represents years of planning, research and development to bring together quilt information in a centralized online tool for education, research, and public access. These notes on the history of the Quilt Index come from the project and staff archives and the papers of Shelly Zegart.
In the early 1990's The Quilt Index was born out of the "explosion in quilt scholarship over several decades which highlighted the need for an independent expanding bibliography". Scholars, curators, folklorists, publishers, and gallery owners had all been "discovering" historic and contemporary quilts and were incorporating them into their work.
Late twentieth century arts documentation projects have their forebears in the 1930s Index of American Design, which included quilts. Several small quilt-specific efforts emerged in the 1970s, such as a bicentennial attempt at mail-in documentation, the National Quilt Registry, and the North Carolina Regional Folklife project's quilt documentation in select areas of that state. Then in 1982, The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc., launched the first state-wide quilt documentation project, which organized a series of documentation days around the state and publicized its methods, thus developing the model upon which quilt documentation efforts were built.
Nearly a decade and much quilt scholarship and documentation later, the Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc planned and organized a series of exhibitions, lectures, gatherings and conferences as Louisville Celebrates the American Quilt. Through this celebration, "[i]ssues of concern to all interested in quilts and quilt scholarship were addressed and goals, priorities and methods were set by some of the brightest lights in the field for the coming decades of quilt study and appreciation."(from the 1992 Overview of Need document)
In February 1992, Louisville Celebrates the American Quilt "Bibliography" Conference came together, in part to form the direction for an American Quilt Index. Nearly 100 people gathered from across the quilt world to discuss in a multiple round table format, the potential media for publishing an extensive quilt "bibliography." Areas discussed were Movies and Photographs, Television and Video, Quilt Books, State Projects, Newspapers and Periodicals, Magazines, Computers, Patterns, Oral Material, Exhibitions, Museum Collections, Conservation, Regional Archives, and early records. A full list of participants and a complete summary of the work of each group can be found in: Expanding Quilt Scholarship, The lectures, conferences, and other presentations of Louisville Celebrates the American Quilt A Kentucky Quilt Project Inc publication,1994, ISBN#:1-880584-04-2.
Following on this conference, project leaders Jonathan Holstein, Eleanor Bingham Miller , Eunice Ray and Shelly Zegart developed a proposal called: Overview of Need for Index (Spring 1992), which included the following summary statement:
"The Quilt Index would gather in one computerized, bibliographic-style source, a non-critical index of quilt related materials in all communications: media, books, magazines, newspaper articles, movies and videotapes. Because a good source for quilt related information was generated and continues to be generated by state and regional quilt documentation projects, information derived from those projects, the largest grass roots scholarly movement in the decorative arts, would also be available. We envision adding exhibition histories, possibly pattern name research, in short, things which would be of interest both to scholars and to a general audience of quilt aficionados."
This broad view of the potential for linking a broad range of materials in an inclusive and comprehensive way for both scholarly and public audiences remains at the heart of the Quilt Index effort.
Planning and Partnerships Spring 1992
Meetings- The Kentucky Quilt Project (KQP) and American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress with Tim Lloyd. KQP began actively developing a network of national leaders and seeking funding sources and promoting the need for an Index. April 1993
Pat Keller and Shelly Zegart write a paper titled "Preliminary Thoughts: Structuring a Mission Statement" May 1993
Shelly Zegart and Eunice Ray first meet in Houston with Karey Bresenhan and Nancy O'Bryant(Quilts, Inc.) to discuss formation of an organization dedicated to American quilts - The Alliance for American Quilts. June 1993
Founders expand the Overview of need for the American Quilt History center and the International Quilt Index including needs assessment, workplan and budget.
"The Alliance was founded for the purposes of establishing and funding the American Quilt History Center and the International Quilt Index" (p. 8). 1993 -1995
Newly formed Alliance for American Quilts conducts planning, budgeting, networking, and administering surveys. August 1995
First advisory council meeting of The Alliance for American Quilts in Washington, D.C., supported in part by Phyllis George Brown ($8000) and the American Folklife Center ($2000) and hosted by the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Members of the Advisory Council attending included Jinny Beyer, Karey Bresenhan, Douglas DeNatale, Elaine Hedges, Jonathan Holstein, Alan Jabbour, Patricia Keller, Bonnie Leman, Penny McMorris, Nancy O'Bryant, Yvonne Porcella, Eunice Ray, Richard Standifer, Merikay Waldvogel, Margaret Wood, and Shelly Zegart. Also present were William Keens, a professional meeting facilitator specializing in arts and humanities, and the late Cathy Rasmussen, project administrator for The Alliance. December 1996
The Quilt Index - A Proposal, written by Alan Jabbour -- Described a plan for an International Quilt Index that was basically the roadmap for the project's development. August 1997
First steering committee meeting for the Quilt Index held at American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Attendees: Jinny Beyer, Karey Bresenhan, Doug DeNatale, Alan Jabbour, Penny McMorris, Nancy O'Bryant, David Taylor, and Shelly Zegart. November 1997
Alliance Advisory Council meeting notes indicate that The Alliance advisory council decides to develop a consortium to design and implement The Index project. Six possible partners were identified - including H-Net and Michigan State University which possesses an ideal combination of quilt collections and programming, and technical resources on campus. H-Net was brought to the group, by Dr. Marsha MacDowell, an Alliance board member from the outset. The Alliance agrees to begin with four contributors: Michigan State University, American Folklife Center, Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and Illinois State Museum. January 14, 1998
The Quilt Index partners and Steering Committee meeting is held to develop a proposal. Attendees are: Shelly Zegart, Karey Bresenhan, Nancy O'Bryant, Alan Jabbour , David Taylor, Doug DeNatale, Jinny Beyer, Pat Keller, Merikay Waldvogel , Jan Wass, and Marsha MacDowell. Additionally, for the first time new attendees are Mark Kornbluh (representing the MSU Museum and MATRIX/H-Net) and Susan Glisson from The Center for the Study of Southern Culture at University of Mississippi. May 1998
An initial Letter of Agreement is signed outlining the relationship between The Alliance for American Quilts and Michigan State University (MSU). This agreement marks the formalization of the relationship between The Alliance and MSU.
Design and Implementation July 1999
Database Planning Phase supported by a grant to Michigan State University by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Preservation and Access Program for the purpose of developing several Index pilot projects. Marsha MacDowell at MSU Museum and Mark Kornbluh directed the metadata development for the Quilt Index Comprehensive Fields. The project activities were conducted by Kate Edgar and Dennis Boone. Summer 2001
Michigan State University in partnership with The Alliance for American Quilts receives a grant from NEH for Quilt Index Phase 1 - Design and Implementation of Pilot Phase, (2001-2004). The Michigan State University Museum collections serve as the beta-testing site. MSU MATRIX and MSU Museum and three other collection institutional contributors also provide in-kind support. Justine Richardson at MATRIX and Mary Worrall at MSU Museum begin as staff project managers. MATRIX's multimedia repository system, KORA (previously "Repos" and "Project Builder"), forms the base architecture for delivering the Quilt Index. More than 1800 quilt images and records are entered into the Index from the following initial contributors: Michigan State University Museum (98 quilt images, from Michigan Quilt Project (MQP) in Museum permanent collection) Illinois State Museum (319 quilt images) Tennessee State Library and Archives -- Quilts of Tennessee (800 quilt images - of approximately 2400 total) University of Louisville University Archives and Records Center -- The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. (624 public records - plus some photographed during KY project now owned by International Quilt Study Center, Lincoln, NE)
Launch! October 2003
Official launch of the Quilt Index onto the Internet
Growth and Expansion Fall 2004
The Institute of Museum and Library Services awards a three-year grant to Michigan State University (in partnership with The Alliance for American Quilts) for Quilt Index Phase 3: National Leadership Collaboration and Expansion (funded by Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2004-2008). This results in a partnership with museum collections plus documentation of the entire project process as a model for other object-based repositories. More than 15,000 new quilts are added to the Index between 2004-2008. Steve Cohen, project evaluator, begins participating in project planning and evaluation. New contributors include:
Museum of American Quilters' Society, Paducah, KY (250 quilt images)
Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Golden, CO (350 quilt images)
Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, TN (1600 quilt images)
Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, Washington, D.C. (320 quilt images)
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Lincoln, NE (5,000 quilt records and slides)
University of Texas, Winedale, Center for American History, Austin, TX (100 quilt images from Winedale collection, plus a subset of the 3800 Texas Sesquicentennial Quilt Search quilt records and images)
MSU Museum (8,000 quilt images and quilt records)
This institutionalization effort includes development of an application process for new contributors and establishment of an Editorial Board. The first editorial board included: Linda Eaton, Winterthur Museum; Dr. Judy Elsley, Weber State University; Dr. Bobbi Malone, Wisconsin Historical Society; Dr. Elizabeth Richards, University of Alberta; and Jan Wass, Illinois State Museum (emeriti curator). Fall 2006
Formal letter of understanding outlining the relationship of the Quilt Index between its partners Michigan State University and the Alliance for American Quilts including project premise, definitions of scope, project administration, term and termination. October 2006
Michigan State University, in collaboration with The Alliance for American Quilts, is awarded a three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for Phase 3 Broad National Expansion. The grant supports new programming to: enhance searching and sorting mechanisms; assist specific user groups (students, teachers, quiltmakers, genealogists); and conduct evaluation activities with separate research funds and cost sharing. More than 28,000 new quilt records are added. The Alliance for American Quilts, led by Director Amy Milne, coordinates subcontracts to contributors.
New contributors include:
West Virginia Department of Archives and History (4,000 quilt records, 6000 slides)
North Carolina Museum of History (5,106 quilt records and images, of more than 10,000 total)
Connecticut Heritage Quilt Project (3200 quilt records, approx 6000 images)
Hawaiian Quilt Research Project (1200 quilt records, 1500 images)
Louisiana Regional Folklife Program (2500 quilt records and images)
Minnesota Quilters Inc. (4000 quilt records, 3600 slides plus 400 digital images)
New England Quilt Museum / MassQuilts (200 quilt records and images, which will create programming crosswalk for 5,000 additional records at a later date)
Rutgers University Archives - Heritage Quilts of New Jersey (2619 quilt records and slides)
Historical Society of Iowa -Iowa Quilt Documentation Project and Mary Barton collection (2558 quilt records and slides)
University of Rhode Island (889 quilt records, 1600 slides) Western Carolina University's Mountain Heritage Center (40 quilts and 60 digital images)
Wyoming Quilt Project, Inc. (2300 quilt records and slides)
In addition, funds support planning with a new contributor, American Quilt Study Group, to develop metadata and a plan to integrate its flagship journal, Uncoverings, in a future phase. Fall 2007
Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awards a three-year grant to Michigan State University in collaboration with The Alliance for American Quilts for "Tools and Ephemera." This phase of activity supports development of advanced user tools for the Quilt Index and adding a wide variety of ephemera materials (such as pattern sources and personal correspondence) to the critical mass of quilt images and information. These new tools and resources will substantially expand the capacity for research, teaching, and learning with the Quilt Index. Project leaders will develop new tools to work with the repository, training for quilt experts and educators to build online exhibits, multimedia presentations, lesson plans, and other resources, and develop social networking features such as community developed resource lists. Fall 2008
The first private collection, the Mary Gasperik Quilts, launches, supported by a grant from the Salser Foundation, assistance from Shelly Zegart, consultation by Merikay Waldvogel, staff support from QI staff and the tireless research of Gasperik's granddaughter, Susan Salser.
Research associate, Amanda Sikarskie, joins the QI staff team. Fall 2009
The Quilt Index launches more than 50,000 quilt records from across the United States, completing its NEH-funded expansion phase and becoming the most expansive and accessible quilt resource available online. Future development, expansion and ongoing sustainability work will continue.
The Signature Quilt Project launches, serving as the first set of quilts contributed by individuals to the QI. This project was funded by the Salser Foundation and the IMLS Tools and Ephemera grant.
*Updated October 2009 – November 2018