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Quilt display and storage at the Museum

20 July, 2013 | Kate Hebert

There are over 250 quilts in the collection at the American Museum. Displaying them in the space available is tricky. Several quilts dress the beds within our Period Rooms. We don’t, however, have enough beds for all of our quilts so another method of display needed to be found.

 The majority of our quilts on display are in our Textile Room. These quilts are shown in the same manner as they were when the Museum opened over 50 years ago. Before they established the American Museum, our founders, John Judkyn and Dallas Pratt, spent several years travelling around America sourcing objects and display ideas. One of the museums that they visited was the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. They were very impressed by the quilt collection at that museum and the ‘book’ system they used to display their quilts. Judkyn and Pratt adopted this method at the American Museum.

Over 40 quilts are hung on large panels that can be browsed in much the same way as you would the pages of a book or the posters at HMV. These panels are covered with perspex to prevent dirt from getting onto the quilts and help avoid the temptation to touch.

To hang the quilts, we machine stitch soft ‘loop’ Velcro onto cotton twill tape. This Velcro tape is then hand-stitched onto the top edge of the quilt. Each panel has ‘hook’ Velcro securely fastened at the top, which holds the quilt in place.

When the quilts are not on display, we roll them and put them into storage. Every closed season, we take down quilts that have been on display and replace them with different examples that have been in store. This allows the fragile textiles to rest and limits their exposure to harmful light.

To roll a quilt, we place it face down on a large work table and cover the surface in acid-free tissue paper. We then gently roll it around a wide tube. Once the whole thing has been rolled, it is covered with unbleached calico, labelled, and hung on racks in the store rooms.