Janneken Smucker & A New Deal for Quilts

Janneken Smucker and myself at QuiltCon (I am wearing the Treasured Threadz Roses and Daisies panel on my Jean Jacket and Crossbody bag), Quilters in the early 20th century

Hi Everyone! As you know, I attended QuiltCon in Raleigh, NC this year and came home SO inspired. There’s something truly magical about making new friends amidst a sea of vibrant fabrics, intricate designs, and the hum of sewing machines. If you don’t know, QuiltCon is organized by the Modern Quilt Guild and is an annual gathering that celebrates the art of modern quilting. To learn more about QuiltCon and see this year’s hottest trend, take a look at my previous blog post!

This year I was so lucky to meet Dr. Janneken Smucker! Janneken is truly an incredible human being. To start, she is a professor and historian specializing in digital history, public history and material culture at West Chester University in Pennsylvania – plus she hosts and co-produces a QSOS Podcast called Running Stitch, where she explores oral histories with contemporary quiltmakers. Along with that, she is also the author of two amazing books about quilt history – Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon and her recent release, A New Deal for Quilts.

Janneken and I instantly connected through our passion for early 20th century textiles, quilts and the early education of women.  Funny enough, we also share a love of The Atom Pop popcorn maker, which, if you’ve never heard of it, has been made right here in Kansas since 1948! It’s hands down the best popcorn maker on the market, we highly recommend it!

A New Deal for Quilts Exhibit at the International Quilt Museum

In conjunction with A New Deal for Quilts, Janneken has helped curate an exhibit at the International Quilt Museum (IQM) in Lincoln, Nebraska. Using antique quilts from the IQM collection and historical photos, her exhibit shares stories of how quiltmakers from around the U.S. coped with hard times during the Great Depression. It explores the federal government’s response to the Depression, and how its Works Progress Administration (WPA), used patchwork quilts as an emblem of American perseverance and frugality.

As you can see, Janneken and I have been traveling a similar path in our life’s work – her as a scholar and me as an entrepreneur.  During the Great Depression (through quiltmaking), the government encouraged people to “make do” and persist in the face of difficulty and deprivation – along with providing a practical lesson that gave women new vocational and homemaking skills. These concepts truly parallel my own research into Mary Brooks Picken, the women’s education she provided through her Woman’s Institute and the ‘mend and make do’ attitude of my Vintage Notions book.

Vintage Modern Maker Primer Courses

If you are interested in diving deeper into textile history, I have nine (!) Primer Courses that are calling your name! I go in-depth on the history of specific topics like Redwork, Pearl Buttons, Feedsacks and more! Explore all the courses on my Vintage Modern Makers website!

Jan Bryan-Hunt, myself and my Mom, Donna at the International Quilt Museum

I recently did a day trip from Kansas City to see Janneken’s A New Deal for Quilts exhibit and if you are in the Lincoln, NE area, I highly encourage you to go! The entire IQM museum is spectacular, but Janneken’s exhibit is only open until April 20th! So hurry! If you can’t make it, you can walk through the exhibit online in their Virtual Gallery, but there is nothing like seeing quilts in person.

Britchy Quilt, made in Alabama by Catherine Somerville in approximately 1930-1050

I deeply connected with so many of the quilts in the New Deal for Quilt Exhibit. Two in particular really spoke to me and reminded me of my own work. First, the ‘Britchy Quilt’. This quilt is made entirely from recycled clothing, specifically worn work pants (hence the “Britches”)! I have had a lifelong passion for repurposing clothing and in my Denim Redesign book I even have my own project called the Denim Quest Quilt that is made of upcycled denim patchwork!

Roosevelt Rose Quilt c 1934 and likely made in Missouri. Pattern designed by Ruth Finley

The other quilt that I was smitten with was the ‘Roosevelt Rose’. The innovative way of making a floral design with Yo-Yo’s was right on trend for the time. Yo-Yo’s have a long history and it is incredibly interesting. If you want to learn more about it, my Vintage Modern Makers Yo-Yo Blooms Primer Course features the Budding Yo-Yo’s Brooch sewing project, an Inspirational Album of photos and videos with ideas for using yo-yos in colorful quilts, pincushions and whimsical apparel… and MORE!

Janneken and her newest book, Pattern and Paradox: The Quilts of Amish Women

Before you go, I wanted to tell you about Janneken’s next big project! She has written another gorgeous book called Pattern and Paradox: The Quilts of Amish Women and she has helped put together an exhibit with the same name at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington DC! The exhibit will run from March 28 – Sept 2, 2024 if you have a chance to see it.

I’m planning on attending Janneken’s exhibit lecture on May 23rd where she will share her insights into the history of Amish quilts and the works featured in the Pattern and Paradox exhibition. If you are in DC, the lecture will be at the McEvoy Auditorium and if not, you can watch it on YouTube! Just register for free on the SAAM website!

I hope you take a moment and explore all the textile history with me and Janneken.  In a world that often feels divided, it’s reassuring to know that you can still meet new people and find a way to celebrate a shared passion — it’s a good reminder that even when we’re strangers, we’re still connected by the threads that bind us.

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