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

Quilt Historian Interview with:
Susan Wildemuth
Quilt Maker, Quilt History Writer and Researcher

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.

"I consider myself a writer, and researcher in quilt history. I love the journey of uncovering new information. I am also venturing into the art quilt arena – I am drawn to creating smaller – wallhanging-size pieces that have an emphasis on historical themes or subjects such as presidents, historical events, or eagle motifs. "

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

"While I appreciate textiles and garments, my interest is really the history of quilts. My focus in that area has narrowed down to eagle motifs, but I also have an appreciation for the Star of Bethlehem/Lone Star quilts. I began quilting in 1985, but my interest in quilt history did not come until I attended a quilt documentation day in Bishop Hill, Illinois and sat next to a senior lady (whose name I never learned) and we talked about her baskets of antique and vintage quilts. She encouraged me to learn more about the history of quilts and quilt making."

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

"I don’t know if I can point to anyone or any group and say I am at this point on the quilt history path because of them. I do know that I was influenced by reading the early issues of Uncoverings – the 1980s ones. Then I would say it really blossomed when I joined QHL and found other women who were interested in quilt history like I was. It allowed me to meet other-like minded people."

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

"I don’t feel like I had a personal mentor. There were lots of people who were encouraging and who I grew fond of because of quilt history, but to point to one person and say it was them – I can’t. Each person I met in the quilt history field helped broaden or enlighten me in some way."

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

"Signature quilts – I loved them – I suppose it was because I could trace the names on the quilt – maybe tell their story with the use of genealogy, but I have drifted away from that. Now my focus has become eagle motif quilts - I am and continue to be fascinated by them."

6) What is your current “Pet project”

"My eagle motif decade by decade wallhanging project. I commission quilt artists and/or quilt historians to choose a decade and then create a 24” x 24” or smaller wallhanging which has an eagle motif and will give a person who sees the piece a glimpse of the decade being represented.

Remembering Grant - Susan Wildemuth 2010. Eagle Motif Decade by Decade Wallhanging - Decade 1870s

(Click to enlarge.)

"Telling the quilt history story of Collingbourne Mills and LeeWards was a nine year project for me, but I feel that I have done my best to “save that story” and it is time to move on to a new project.

"My study of antique, vintage, and new eagle quilts. I want to learn everything I can about them and then share that knowledge with others."

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

"Discovering new information that enhances what is already known about a subject. I also like the “saving stories” part of quilt research.

The creative process – my friend Louie recently told me, “Sue - you live to create; whether it is through your writing, your cooking, or your quiltmaking – creating feeds your soul."

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

"I would like to write a book on eagle quilts – that is one of my bucket list goals."

9) Any further comments are invited.

"The reason decided to do a web site about Illinois Quilt History:
I had been working on my Virginia Snow Studios, Collingbourne Mills, and LeeWards research since 2001, but it wasn't until 2007 I started thinking about a web site completely devoted to Illinois Quilt History. With the exception of the Elbert book and a few magazine articles no one appeared to be studying and researching Illinois' contributions in the area of quilt and art needlework history. I thought those stories needed to be saved and so I decided to start my web site. I had also learned a lot from my VSS, CM, and LeeWards project about how to gather information in the State of Illinois that I thought would help others with their own research or genealogy projects - I added that information to my site as well.

"What I did not know when I started the site was how I would reconnect people researching their art needlework ancestors to ancestors they did not know they had? I have been able to do this many times. e.g. I was contacted by a German Buettner relative about the T. Buettner & Co. Chicago, Illinois information she found on my web site - she could not speak English and my German comes from three years of HS German which bascially consists of conversational German and the Our Father I had to memorize in my German III class, but we spent months exchanging information and photographs. I posted the new information and photograhs she shared on my web site and then a Wisconsin Buettner contacted me on the information found on my site. She added her own and was overjoyed to find she had ancestors who still resided in Germany -- I introduced them to each other and they have taken it from there. I have done this several times with other art needlework companies -- reconnected ancestors to each other. It is a reward and a bonus for me to be able to do that and also save a quilt history and/or art needlework company story.

"I love books, but a web site allows you the freedom to update your information as new information surfaces so interested parties or researchers have the most accurate information available on a particular subject."

10) Please describe (in a list) the contributions you have made via books, presentations, exhibits, contests, articles, fabric lines, research papers and the like.


Susan Wildemuth is an author, historian and quilting aficionado. Her research, writing and photographs have been published in national, regional and local quilt and textile history publications. She was one of the tri-founders of the Iowa-Illinois Quilt Study Group in Kalona, Iowa.

Her web site Illinois Quilt History: Quilt History (http://www.illinoisquilthistory.com/) from the Midwest was established in 2008, and her blog Eye of the Needle: Quilt History Conversation (http://sew-eyeoftheneedlequilthistory.blogspot.com/) from the Midwest followed in 2009.

Her area of expertise is Illinois Quilt History and Antique, Vintage, and New eagle quilts. She is also the author of a non-quilting blog called Life Lessons from Movies (http://lifelessonsfrommoviesandliterature.blogspot.com/) and Literature which was started in 2010. She lives on an Illinois grain farm with her husband and a “rescued” red beagle-mix.

Thank you very much, Susan, for sharing your self with us and for the insights we gain 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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