I’ve never met Roderick Kiracofe, but, I’ve known about his quilt collection for a long time. I believe that I heard his name shortly after I returned to Alabama over a decade ago. In those early days, I was working with quilters to create the garments that would make up my first collections. My neighbors supported my interest in quilts and quilting, happy that I was embracing a skill so highly valued in the community. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for me to open my door in the morning and find a bag of quilts left by an anonymous soul. They were often “garbage quilts”, as they are called around here—quilts that had seen better days. Many were shedding handpicked cotton through feed-sack fabric, worn so thin that the strings left couldn’t contain the internal batting. They were quilts that had been used to cover animals or as seat padding for an old car. But someone knew that I would see their value and appreciate their history.
Around this same time, the New York Times published an article about Roderick and his book, The American Quilt, which is a history of quilting, it’s historical context, and how the art has evolved through the years. Shortly thereafter, he published Cloth & Comfort, which told personal stories behind the quilts he studied and wrote about. Just as I found myself touched by the worn quilts making their way to my studio and intrigued by their history, Roderick was also moved by the stories, reminiscences, and intimate details he discovered in his research. We both shared an interest in this craft of quilting and the talented artisans who created the quilts. But, despite the fact that many in my community considered me to be an unofficial quilt expert—though I personally own only six quilts—Roderick’s knowledge and expertise (and quilt collection) far surpasses my own.
So I was rather surprised when Roderick reached out to me about his new book, titled Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar, 1950-2000. He said that he had seen my books, read about the ladies who worked with Alabama Chanin, and had even watched my little documentary film called “Stitch.” We talked about the quilters of my community and my collection of oral histories from quilters, and he asked if I would be willing to share those stories as part of his book. At his request, I wrote an essay titled, “Never Seen a Blanket,” about the daily lives of the women in my community—those women who might have made one or more of these beautiful everyday objects.
The book contains about 150 photos of the best of Roderick’s comprehensive quilt collection and essays from other quilt lovers and experts. It is visually stunning and filled with stories that celebrate the art of quilting and the artists who produced these impressive, if sometimes unconventional pieces.
From publisher Stuart Tabori Chang:
Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950–2000 is a stunning collection of approximately 150 eccentric and extraordinary quilts made predominantly by anonymous quilters in the US during the second half of the 20th century. Collected by renowned quilt authority and collector Roderick Kiracofe, they represent a 20th-century quilt movement that remains mostly undocumented. Unlike the familiar quilts that replicate traditional patterns of earlier centuries, these surprising textiles represent a freer, more casual, utilitarian style that departs from (and returns to) a multitude of norms and standards. Peppered with essays by renowned experts that help to contextualize the quilts’ surprisingly modern aesthetic, Unconventional & Unexpected is a groundbreaking celebration of 20th-century quilting that picks up where most other quilt histories leave off.
Get the book today. It’s a beauty.
Thank you to Roderick, Melanie, and all the team at Stuart Tabori Chang/Harry Abrams for including my story in this gorgeous work.