By Kelly Spell, Past President


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After we learned QuiltCon 2019 would be held in Nashville, Michelle Bolt with the Knoxville Modern Quilt Guild wrote to us with an interesting proposal.She invited each of the MQGs in Tennessee to participate in the QuiltCon Charity Quilt Challenge and make a modern quilt inspired by a traditional one featured in the book “The Quilts of Tennessee”. The book is co-authored by Knoxville MQG member Merikay Waldvogel and Bets Ramsey. We loved the idea and quickly got to work.As the design team thumbed through the book to decide which quilt to use as our inspiration, we saw a scrappy basket quilt attributed to Mary High Prince and friends. It was made in Raus, Tennessee in 1863-1864, and it’s a stark contrast to some of the colorful, geometric quilts featured in the book. Audrey Workman and Mary Keasler looked at each other and asked, “Have you ever seen a modern basket quilt?” No, we never had!I wasn’t immediately convinced the basket quilt would be the best inspiration to choose for our design. But when Jean Larson created a paper frame and laid it on top of the photo to suggest our way forward, everyone agreed we saw the hallmarks of a great modern quilt.


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Our design combines a modern aesthetic with historic practicality. We decided to feature long, thin strips in our design, as those would be easy for guild members to piece at home. Mary sewed a sample block, and I used a photograph of it to create a rough digital mockup of our modern basket in a program called Affinity Photo.When it was time to determine which fabrics to use, we followed in the footsteps of our Tennessee ancestors, who are known for distinct, scrappy quilts made with whatever fabric was at hand. The guild already had background and backing fabric, as well as batting, thanks to previous donations. We asked guild members to donate fabrics from their stashes to make the strips. Several volunteers assembled the kits, which were sewn at home by guild members.With the completed strip blocks in hand, the design team began piecing the top together in October 2018.


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It took several sessions to complete the flimsy. In January 2019, I finished the quilt with straight lines set 1” apart.During construction of the quilt top, we were contacted by the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville with an incredible offer. Curator Candace Adelson was working with Merikay on an exhibition of quilts made in Tennessee, and she wanted to include our modern basket. She also asked if we’d donate the quilt to the museum’s permanent collection after the show. We eagerly said “Yes!” to both proposals.The museum’s exhibition is called Between the Layers: Art and Story in Tennessee Quilts. It opened Feb. 8, 2019 and runs through May 27.