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The History of Quilt Index

The Quilt Index is a central resource that incorporates a wide variety of sources and information on quiltmakers, quilts and quiltmaking.

The Quilt Index represents years of research and development to bring together quilt information in a centralized online tool for education, research, and public access. The Quilt Index was conceived and developed by The Alliance for American Quilts and implemented in collaboration with Michigan State University's MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online and the Michigan State University Museum.

Quilt Index includes:


Quilt Index History


The early history of the development of the Quilt Index

In the early 1990's, the Quilt Index was born out of the explosion in quilt scholarship over several decades which highlighted the need for an independent expanding bibliography. Scholars, curators, folklorists, publishers and gallery owners had all been “discovering” historic and contemporary quilts and were incorporating them into their work. Grassroots documentation efforts across the United States had followed the lead of The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. and gathered an unprecedented amount of quilt documentation.

The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. (1982), the first state quilt documentation project, became a model for future quilt documentation efforts. In 1992 the Kentucky Quilt Project organized “Louisville Celebrates the American Quilt.” The celebration was designed as a tribute to the extraordinary growth and development in quilt related activities over the past twenty years. The exhibitions, conferences, lectures and gatherings which comprised the celebration ran, from November 1991 through May of 1992. The conference weekend was held February 6-8, 1992. Issues of concern to all interested in quilts and quilt scholarship were addressed and goals, priorities and methods were set by some of the brightest lights in the field for the coming decades of quilt study and appreciation. (From the 1992 Overview of Need document).


February 1992

Louisville Celebrates the American Quilt "Bibliography" Conference was planned to form the direction for an American Quilt Index.

Planning began in late 1990. The conference was held in Louisville with many participants from the quilt world in a multiple round table format. Each table considered one form of media for publishing an extensive quilt bibliography, to include state quilt documentation data. There were approximately 15 invited leaders and 84 registered participants. The areas discussed were Movies and Photographs, Television and Video, Quilt Books, State Projects, Newspapers and Periodicals, Magazines, Computers, Patterns, Oral Material, Exhibitions, Museum Collections, Conservation, Regional Archives, and early records. A full list of participants and a complete summary of the work of each group can be found in: Expanding Quilt Scholarship, The lectures, conferences, and other presentations of Louisville Celebrates the American Quilt, A Kentucky Quilt Project Inc publication, 1994. ISBN#:1-880584-04-2


Spring 1992

Leaders Jonathan Holstein, Eleanor Bingham Miller, Eunice Ray and Shelly Zegart developed a proposal called: Overview of Need for Index, which included the following summary statement:

"The Quilt Index would gather in one computerized, bibliographic-style source a non-critical index of quilt related materials in all communications: media, books, magazines, newspaper articles, movies and videotapes. Because a good source for quilt related information was generated and continues to be generated by state and regional quilt documentation projects, information derived from those projects, the largest grass roots scholarly movement in the decorative arts, would also be available. We envision adding exhibition histories, possibly pattern name research, in short, things which would be of interest both to scholars and to a general audience of quilt aficionados."


Spring 1992 Meetings

The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. (KQP) and American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress with Tim Lloyd. KQP began actively developing a network of national leaders and seeking funding sources and promoting the need for an Index.


April 1993

Pat Keller and Shelly Zegart wrote a paper titled "Preliminary Thoughts: Structuring a Mission Statement."


May 1993

Shelly Zegart and Eunice Ray first met in Houston with Karey Bresenhan and Nancy O’Bryant to discuss formation of an organization dedicated to American quilts – The Alliance for American Quilts.


Summer 1992

June 1993: Founders expanded the Overview of Need for the American Quilt History Center and the International Quilt Index, including needs assessment, work plan and budget.

"The Alliance was founded for the purposes of establishing and funding the American Quilt History Center and the International Quilt Index."


1993 -1995

The newly formed Alliance for American Quilts conducted planning, budgeting, networking, needs surveys.


August 1995

The first advisory council meeting of The Alliance for American Quilts in Washington, DC, supported in part by Phyllis George Brown ($8,000) and the American Folklife Center ($2,000) and hosted by the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Members of the Advisory Council were: Jinny Beyer, Karey Bresenhan, Douglas DeNatale, Elaine Hedges, Jonathan Holstein, Alan Jabbour, Patricia Keller, Bonnie Leman, Penny McMorris, Nancy O’Bryant, Yvonne Porcella, Eunice Ray, Richard Standifer, Merikay Waldvogel, Margaret Wood, and Shelly Zegart. Also present were William Keens, professional meeting facilitator specializing in arts and humanities, and the late Cathy Rasmussen, project administrator for The Alliance.


December 1996

The Quilt Index - A Proposal, written by Alan Jabbour, which proved to be prescient. It virtually describes the Index as it evolved and exists today.


August 1997

The first steering committee meeting for the Quilt Index held at American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The attendees were: Ginny Beyer, Karey Bresenhan, Doug DeNatale, Alan Jabbour, Penny McMorris, Nancy O’Bryant, David Taylor, and Shelly Zegart.


The History of The Alliance’s Index partnership with Michigan State University

November 1997

The Alliance advisory council decided to develop a consortium to implement The Index project. Six possible partners were identified – including H-Net and MSU having an ideal combination of quilt collections and programming, and technical resources on campus. H-Net was brought to the group by Dr. Marsha Mac Dowell, an Alliance board member from the outset. It was agreed to begin with 4 partners – Michigan State University, American Folklife Center, Center for the Study of Southern Culture and Illinois State Museum.


January 1998

The Quilt Index partners and Steering Committee met to develop a proposal. The attendees were - Shelly Zegart, Karey Bresenhan, Nancy O’Bryant, Alan Jabbour, David Taylor, Doug DeNatale, Jinny Beyer, Pat Keller, Merikay Waldvogel , Marsha Mac Dowell and Mark Kornbluh (first time), Jan Wass, Susan Glisson (first time) from The Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Old Miss.


May 1998

Initial Letter of Agreement signed outlining the relationship between The Alliance for American Quilts and Michigan State University. This agreement marked the formalization of the relationship between The Alliance and MSU.


July 1999

Database Planning Phase supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation and Access Program for the purpose of developing several Index pilot projects.


2001-2003: Design and Implementation of Pilot Phase

This phase, started in the summer of 2001, was funded by National Endowment for the Humanities and partner contributions (2001 - 2004). More than 1800 quilt images and records total. Initial contributors included:


October 2003

The Quilt Index projectThe official launch of the Quilt Index onto the Internet:


2004: National Leadership and Expansion

Fall 2004

This phase of the project was funded by Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2004-2008). Partnership with museum collections and documentation of entire project process as model for other object-based repositories. In progress, more than 15,000 new quilts.

New contributors included:


2006: Broad National Expansion

Fall 2006

A formal letter of understanding outlining the future relationship of the Quilt Index and its partners, Michigan State University and the Alliance for American Quilts, including project premise, definitions of scope, project administration, term and termination.

October 2006

This phase received its funding from NEH - National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant supported new programming to: enhance searching and sorting mechanisms; assist specific user groups (students, teachers, quiltmakers, and genealogists); and conduct evaluation activities with separate research funds and cost sharing. More than 28,000 new quilt records.

New contributors include:

In addition, funds supported planning with a new partner, American Quilt Study Group, to develop metadata and a plan to integrate its flagship journal, Uncoverings, in a future phase.


2007: IMLS Tools and Ephemera (2007-2010)

This project is developing advanced user tools for the Quilt Index and adding a wide variety of ephemera materials (such as pattern sources and personal correspondence) to the critical mass of quilt images and information. These new tools and resources will substantially expand the capacity for research, teaching, and learning with the Quilt Index. Project leaders will develop new tools to work with the repository, training for quilt experts and educators to build online exhibits, multimedia presentations, lesson plans, and other resources, and develop social networking features such as community developed resource lists.

The Quilt Index, an international model for digital humanities resources, is poised to number more than 50,000 images and records by the end of 2008, with plans for even further expansion. The Quilt Index is the most expansive and accessible quilt resource in the world.

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