Barbara Korengold on Applique Quilts
On October 5, 2013, Barbara Korengold
gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program featuring applique quilts she has made herself.
Barbara has a long experience as a maker of a variety of textiles but who has for the last ten years focused on applique quilts. She describes herself as self-taught and, while she draws on the literature, she also does her own designing. Although her pieces are for her family, she does enter them, sometimes, in competitions. She said that she is interested in judges’ critiques of the technical side of her work, but is pretty confident about what she wants to do aesthetically.
Barbara’s quilts are made almost entirely by hand. The long seams connecting the blocks and applying the binding to the edges are done on her machine, but all the applique and quilting are done by hand. She generally works on a quilt for more than two years. She uses the traditional needle turn applique technique, and quilts in a hoop.
She showed nine pieces, from earliest to most recent, all her own work.
She took us into her first quilt, titled “South of Baltimore (Chevy Chase)”.
Description of Quilt 1:The 16 blocks in this quilt are made from Elly Sienkiewicz’s patterns. The borders are Barbara’s original design, borrowing elements from the blocks. Sienkiewicz’s designs are based on fancier, more intricate blocks in the Baltimore album quilts made in the 1850s.
There is a little dimensional work in this quilt. The silk rosebuds in the fourth block in the top row are folded and gathered, and the vase directly below is filled with four ruched flowers. This technique of ruching flowers is frequently repeated in Barbara’s work.
Embroidery is used in this quilt to make stems and other lines (like the strings on the lyre in the bottom row) that are too narrow to applique.
The first block in the bottom row shows a technique called Broderie Perse. Rather than assemble a flower from several pieces of fabric, a printed flower is cut from fabric and stitched directly onto the block.
Detail images of Quilt 1:
Barbara took us to Quilt 2.
Description of Quilt 2: This quilt is called “Album II” Again, the blocks are Elly Sienkiewicz’s designs, with a border copied from an antique quilt. Some of the designs had to be distorted to fit into the “on point” format used in this quilt. There is more use of silk here. The folded rosebuds in the borders and all the small berries (which were stuffed before being sewn onto the blocks) are silk.
Barbara took advantage of the striped green and brown fabric to create the illusion of shading in the border leaves.
Again, the skinny stems and other lines (such as the curly tendrils in the grapevine blocks) are embroidered.
Detail images of Quilt 2:
The next quilt was this one.
Description of Quilt 3: This quilt, called “Midnight Mary” is Barbara’s version of the Mary Mannakee quilt in the collection of the DAR.
Barbara had been collecting the hand dyed marbled fabrics for a while, looking for a project in which to use them. She paired them with regular commercial green fabrics for the leaves. There is very little embroidery on this quilt, but her quilting is getting a little denser, with increasing amounts in the applique itself as well as the background. The center block is Barbara’s original design, since she didn’t care for the block in the original quilt. She feels that once she has a pattern she is free to do whatever she wishes with it. Sometimes that means using it exactly as it is, or at other times changing it to suit her purposes.
Detail images of Quilt 3:
The fourth quilt was this one:
Description of Rug 4: This is Barbara’s first, and so far only, attempt to make as close a copy as possible of an antique quilt. The original is in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and has been widely published in books and magazines. The original quilt was never finished – it is an unquilted top. The museum has templates for a boy that might have been meant to be a block next to the girl in the top row, but he was never made. For this reason, Barbara calls her quilt “Lost Boy”.
It is thought that the quilt was made in upstate New York, possibly in the Saratoga area because of the race horses. Some of the horses have labels with names, as does the elephant. Research could probably be done to get some more information, but Barbara hasn’t been so inclined.
There is a great deal of embroidery in this quilt. The animals with riders are particularly heavily embroidered, as is the tail of the peacock in the fourth row, and the butterflies throughout.
Detail images of Rug 4:
Barbara took us to Quilt 5.
Description of Quilt 5: “An Alphabet” is a quilt that began its life as fabric looking for a home. Barbara purchased the grapevine print, thinking that at some point it would be a nice sashing in between the blocks of a quilt. It sat on her shelf for a couple of years, until she found the green background fabric to go with it. More time passed before she decided to make an alphabet quilt. The designs are original, based loosely on various alphabets in Dover copyright free publications.
This is the first quilt in which Barbara used trapunto. The curly motifs in the corners of the blocks have an extra layer of stuffing inserted between the quilt top and backing to add dimension and texture.
Details of Quilt 5:
Description of Quilt 6: “Sew is Life” is very much in the tradition of the Baltimore album quilts made in the 1850s. The patterns (made by the members of the Baltimore Applique Society) were traced directly from various old quilts. Barbara pointed out that if some of the blocks in this quilt are compared to those in her first two quilts the inspiration for Elly Sienkiewicz’s patterns is easy to see. She particularly pointed out the lyre and bird block in the top left hand corner of this quilt, and the book block in the lower right hand corner as good examples.
The quilting of this example is particularly dense and intricate. While Barbara did not use any trapunto in this quilt, the loft of the wool batting she uses makes the quilting design very visible. There is also extensive use of ruched flowers in the borders.
Detail images of Quilt 6:
Quilt 7 looked like this:
Description of Quilt 7: This quilt is called “Sam’s Owl (A Mary Brown Album).
Mary Brown lived in East Nottingham, Maryland in the 1850s. She made two quilts that survive that we know of. This quilt is a combination of the two. The basic design structure and most of the blocks come from one quilt. The large center block and a few of the small blocks are from the second.
Barbara made the most extensive use of trapunto so far in this quilt. The small rosettes at the corners of the blocks, and the feather surrounding the center block are stuffed. There are tri-colored ruched flowers in the corners. There are no borders on this quilt, but there is an edging of folded fabric points in the binding. Some of the areas of applique are quite large, so Barbara felt it was necessary to do more quilting in these areas.
This quilt, and Sew is Life are both about 8 1/2 feet square – Barbara says too big to fit in her house. (She always has a quilt hanging on display, but since she doesn’t have high ceilings she can’t display these two.) She says that to avoid making such large quilts in the future she limits her purchase of background fabrics to eight yards, rather than ten.
As far as fabrics for applique, a little goes a long way, so purchases of 1/4 or 1/2 yard pieces can be adequate.
Details of Quilt 7:
This is Quilt 8:
Description of Quilt 8: This quilt was inspired by a small black and white drawing of three panels in a Dover publication, labeled “14th Century Florentine”. Barbara still had a lot of the marbled fabrics she had used in the Midnight Mary quilt, and she decided to mix those with silks and cotton batiks that she had in her stash. The design of the top and bottom borders also came from Dover books – the vertical borders separating the panels came from a hair barette.
Barbara calls this quilt “The Red One”.
Details of Quilt 8:
The ninth quilt was this one.
Description of Quilt 9: This is Barbara’s most recent quilt, still in the process of being quilted. It is loosely based on the Zeruah Guersney Caswell Carpet in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a wool embroidered rug made in Castleton, Vermont in the early 1830s. The rug is 159″ x 147″, with 80 squares. Barbara has selected 36 blocks to adapt for her applique. She has used much more embroidery than she usually does, to reflect the rugmaker’s technique. The border is Barbara’s original addition. The feathers separating blocks are stuffed. When it’s finished, Barbara will call this quilt “Zeruah’s Legacy”.
Detail images of Quilt 9:
The next few images show how Barbara uses embroidery in her applique work.
Two applique quilts were brought in. Very different from Barbara’s work. They reminded me that some some of the uses of applique many of us expect to see in textiles, feature very spacious designs. This is so much so that it shapes our expectations. I had trouble, initially, taking in that Barbara’s pieces were appliqued using very small pieces and not embroidered (admittedly a very different technique). My ignorant questions got strange looks from the experienced applique quilters in the room.
Maybe a couple of examples will show why the “grooves” in our minds about how an appliqued piece will likely look are so deep.
Among the oldest textiles we have are those from the Pazaryk site in southern “Russia.” Estimated to be 2500 years old. Some applique items are included among them. These appliques are not quilts, but rather felts. Standing in front of the perhaps most famous of the Pazaryk applique felt in St. Petersburg in 2010, one was impressed both with size of the piece and that of some of the applique elements (although many relatively smaller pieces are used as well).
Another use of applique we encounter is also from Central Asia. This is an antique Kyrgyz applique felt.
These two Central Asian applique felts show what our most likely mental contrast models for “applique” textiles are.
With that preparation, let’s look at the two applique quilts that were brought in.
Description of Quilt 10:
This quilt moves to another vein of applique quilting than the one Barbara practices. It has fewer applique elements and they are larger. The simplicity and the strong graphics of this quilt suggest Amish, but it is not one the Amish made for their own use because 1) it has curvilinear elements and 2) the material is finely patterned not plain. The range of colors used in this quilt are much narrower than that we saw in Barbara’s quilts. The designer mostly used red and green (complimentary colors) but also employed some touches of yellow to enliven things.
Detail images of Quilt 10:
From a distance, the colors in this quilt look solid, but up close, the fine patterns used become evident.
Amy Rispin commented that “This is an old applique quilt with cotton batting. The backing on it post-dates the front by many decades, and was clearly sewn on to support the front. The backing is not quilted to the rest of the piece, but rather is sewn on at the edges. So I think someone wanted to salvage an older quilt and they chose the best remaining part of it and cut it down to that and sewed an extra backing onto it. That would have converted it to a wall hanging. It is probably too fragile to be used as a crib quilt, which would mean it would have to be washed frequently.” Amy adds that “Its colors are reminiscent of Pennsylvania.” She agrees that it could have been made by an Amish quilter, but only for sale, not for use in an Amish home.
The last quilt of the day was this one.
Description of Quilt 11:
This quilt is in a kind of half-way point between the detail and density of Barbara’s quilts and the rather austere one immediately above. This quilt features larger applique elements, but also some smaller ones. It has a greater variety of design than does the “Amish-like” one and includes calligraphy, something that is encountered with fair frequency in applique quilts. Despite the smaller elements and greater variety, this quilt projects a spaciousness quite different from Barbara’s designs.
Amy Rispin notes that “This quilt was made to serve as a wall hanging. Its dates and double-wedding ring motif indicate that it commemorates a wedding. Its boxed elements are reminiscent of “Baltimore” quilt usages. Compare with Quilt 1.
Detail images of Quilt 11:
Barbara answered questions,
and brought her session to a close.
I want to thank Barbara for sharing her impressive applique quilt work with us, and for her help in producing and editing this virtual version of her program.
I hope you have enjoyed this post on the work another person who does things, rather than just talks about them. It’s refreshing to hear from real practitioners.
R. John Howe