Curated by Linzee Kull McCray
String-piecing, typically identified by thin lengths—or strings—of fabric sewn onto a foundation, is used to create quilts that range from the seemingly haphazard to the carefully constructed. The technique serves as a way to stabilize pieces that would otherwise be too small or too awkwardly shaped to be useful in traditional quilt blocks. Thus, string piecing is often thought of as strictly utilitarian, a way of using up every last scrap as expediently as possible. Indeed, the foundation material of string-pieced quilts often speaks to that mindset—repurposed newspapers and catalog pages, feed sacks, and brown paper bags can still be found backing tops that were never sewn into finished quilts.
The shape of the strings in these waste-not, want-not quilts likely resulted from the scraps remaining after sewing clothing. A pattern piece cut out on the straight of grain leaves behind long, narrow strips. Home sewists saw their usefulness and so did clothing manufacturers, including those that sold “quilt bundles”—the scraps left over from dresses, shirts, and pants. As factory-made clothing became more available, so did these strips, and string-pieced quilts proliferated.
Despite their humble origins, not all vintage and antique string-pieced quilts can be categorized as utilitarian. Silk “strings” have been noted in an elegant quilt dated 1890. And utilitarian doesn’t mean unlovely or unplanned. There are a few published blocks that contain string-pieced sections—Rocky Road to Kansas, published in 1890 is one—but the majority of string-pieced quilts don’t use a pattern. The serendipity of the scrap bag and the eye of the quilter contribute to the end result. In his book Unconventional and Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar, 1950—2000, Roderick Kiracofe writes “In some quilts we can surmise that the maker started out with a traditional pattern and, for whatever reason, upended the route and swerved down a different path. She either had a different vision of what her quilt ought to look like or she simply allowed the creation to flow through her by happy accident.” String piecing lends itself equally to happy accidents and intricately planned designs alike. Enjoy the artistry of this versatile approach to quilt making.
Virtual Gallery Walk
Purchase “Admission” for a virtual tour of the exhibit
Unlike our Tuesday virtual programs that are more conversational, this gallery walk is just the quilts, accompanied by narration of the exhibit descriptions. This is intended as as ‘single viewer’ purchase, just like admission to the museum. To discuss the possibility of a guild or group presentation, please contact Megan Barrett, director@IowaQuiltMuseum.org
Join us each Tuesday at Twelve via Zoom for an online program featuring the Virtual Iowa Quiltscape
Some programs will focus on our exhibit, String Theory, and feature the artists and lenders who have contributed to the exhibit. Other programs will highlight various aspects of quilt life in Iowa!
To Join the Zoom meeting, click on the following link, or type the Meeting ID into Zoom:
Meeting ID: 943 9573 5155
February 23rd – Millie Kehrli, Mary Barton’s Textile Legacy
March 2 – Sujata Shah & Ann Brauer, contributors to String Theory
March 9 – Mary Fons & Jody Sanders, Quilt Publication
We will use the SAME meeting link for ALL of our Virtual Iowa Quiltscape sessions – each Tuesday at Twelve. If you have questions about how to join the Zoom meeting, email or call us—director@IowaQuiltMuseum.org or 515-462-5988.