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New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, www.antiquequiltdating.com

Quilt Historian Interview with:
Dana Balsamo
Vintage Textiles Dealer and Collector

Contact information:

Dana Balsamo
41 Taylor Rd
Princeton, NJ 08540



1) How do you prefer to be described as, within the field of textile history?
If you have a business, please tell us about that.

"Primarily, I am an Antique Textiles Dealer, but also consider myself a Quilt Collector and aspiring Quilt Historian. I say aspiring because although I may know more than the average person about quilts, my knowledge dwarfs in comparison to the Quilt Historians I know.

“I own and operate Material Pleasures, an online store for antique and vintage textiles. I carry a wide variety of antique and vintage textiles including quilts, fabrics, lace, linens, and more that delight collectors, quilters, and crafters."

2) When and where did you begin your serious interest in the history of quilts?

"I had started quilting in 1994 and immediately my tastes turned toward the Depression Era reproduction fabrics and traditional patterns. That started my quest and research of the ‘real thing’. I began collecting vintage and antique fabrics and would try to research the fabrics to date them. Antique fabrics naturally led to collecting antique quilts.

"I was a stay at home mom, so most of purchases were from yard sales and estate sales by the box. I would get those boxes home and would go through the fabrics I loved and put them aside. Being the kind of person that can’t throw anything away, I discovered selling on eBay. I was able to sell the fabrics I didn’t want, and with that money, buy more! That was in 1999. When I discovered auctions I would purposely buy for reselling. And my little pin money hobby has grown to a legitimate small business. Gradually, my inventory expanded to vintage sewing items, linens, laces, and ladies accessories like aprons, shoe clips, handkerchiefs, compacts, and purses. I’ve made the progression from selling eBay to an online antique mall, to my own website and selling in person at local antique shows and quilts.

"It’s been a wonderful opportunity to take my passion of quilts and textiles and develop a business where I can work from home and be there for my children and watch them grow. It has been a great experience for them as well. They love the quilts I have brought home and have learned how to respect them. Every auction I bring them to has a history lesson. It is not unusual to see my eight year old daughter pawing through racks of 18th century costumes with white gloves on (which little rubber bands on the cuffs to keep them from sliding off)."

3) What “known” individual (or group) influenced you most and why?

"There are so many ladies who have influenced me because of their careful research, or business savvy: Nancy Kirk, Mary Koval, Elizabeth Kurella, but Barbara Brackman has been a major influence. She is constantly searching for answers and has a way of making Quilt History fun. I have purchased all her books, listened to her at lectures, and have taken classes with her. She is truly inspiring."

4) Who became your personal mentor as you began your learning?

"There are two women I consider my mentors. I have learned so much from Judith Grow regarding quilt history. She is a wealth of knowledge. Judy was also my first quilt history friend and reinforced my feelings that quilt history is important and other people have an interest in quilt history aside from myself. When my hobby grew to a business, another Antique Textile Dealer, Edna Moran, began to mentor me, and still does, in many aspects of the business of antique textiles. As I grow, I aspire to merge Judy’s perception of quilts as history with Edna’s perception of quilts as a business."

5) What aspect of study were you most passionate about at first? How has this changed over time and why?

"When I first started collecting, I threw myself into studying how to date fabrics and patterns and quilts. Not just for my own personal satisfaction, but it is hard to build a reputation of being a reputable antique textile dealer if you don’t know what you have. But recently, after coming face to face with a school bulletin board in one of my district’s elementary schools based on the subject of “Secret Signals in Quilts in the UGRR”, I have been working on educating the teachers (and any quilter interested), on dispelling that myth. I was able to have a meeting with the Superintendent of Curriculum to discuss historic myths and offer my service to any of the teachers who wanted to discuss the subject of quilts and their use in the UGRR.

"There are so many children’s books that are works of fiction on the subject, and some teachers will develop a lesson upon it as if it were based on fact. I think it is wonderful that teachers are bringing quilts in the classroom, and quilts can be used as tools in art, math, and history. But to propagate the myth that slaves used quilts to relate secret messages for use in the UGRR is doing our children a disservice, quilt history a disservice, and African American History a disservice."

6) What is your current “Pet project"?

"Between 2 kids, a husband, unending housework, and a business, I barely even have time to quilt anymore. I do have the very early beginnings of a book outlined in reference to Quilt Ephemera. I have been collecting Quilt Ephemera for a number of years. Ephemera is a great resource and valuable tool. And I’d like to be able to put that information into a format that will be interesting to quilters, collectors, and historians."

Dana with her two daughers, Sophia (left) and Catie (right).

7) What aspect of your research or contribution to textile studies has satisfied you the most?

"I get the greatest satisfaction helping other people with their quilts and other textiles. Most people who contact me know very little about their vintage quilts, some passed down to them from Grandmother or other sentimental relative. I like being able to help them date their quilt, identify the pattern, and give them information on how to care for their quilts."

8) Within this arena, what would you like to do, but haven’t done yet?

"I would eventually like to become a Certified Quilt Appraiser. I hope to start taking classes next year. Besides wanting it for my own personal satisfaction, it would be a wonderful service to offer my customers."

9) Any further comments are invited.

"Label your quilts!! I often gaze at a quilt wondering who the quiltmaker was and where she was in life. When you make a quilt, realize you are important enough to put your name on it. Your children, grandchildren, and hopefully great grandchildren, will appreciate it."

Please list the contributions you have made via books, presentations, exhibits, and links to your website

Material Pleasures  www.materialpleasures.com

Thank you very much, Dana, for sharing your self with us and for the insights we have gained because of your efforts in this field. Continued success to you.

* Women (and Men) at Work

© 2006 - 2016 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.

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