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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress
presents the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series

The Quilters' Save Our Stories Project
(Quilters' S.O.S.)

2007 Botkin flyer for Bernard Herman

“The Quilters’ SOS — Save Our Stories,” a project of The Alliance for American Quilts, documents and shares the history of quilting by chronicling the stories of living American quiltmakers through tape-recorded interviews. Since 1999, we have invited quiltmakers to talk about their personal experiences with quilts and quiltmaking, and to bring along a quilt of special importance to them to help spark their stories. The goal is simple: to create the largest oral history collection about quilters and quilts, drawing on the broadest cross-section of quilters possible, and to make that story available to all. The interviews are made available as quickly and efficiently as possible for study and research. Transcriptions of all Quilters’ S.O.S. interviews are available on the Internet at,External Link with more to come.

Whom are we trying to reach? If recent industry estimates are correct, roughly 20,000,000 quilters are working at their art in the United States today. The Quilter’s S.O.S. Project has recorded approximately 600 interviews. This means we have only 19,999,400 to go! Through tape-recorded interviews, participants are contributing their stories to an important historical collection of information about quiltmaking and contemporary quilters. This information is invaluable to researchers interested in quiltmaking, as well as to other quiltmakers. The Quilters’ S.O.S. Project design is intentionally simple and inexpensive, in the hopes that it will be adopted by other organizations such as regional quilt guilds.

The Quilters’ S.O.S. project builds on the techniques of oral history, and has been developed with three working concepts in mind:

1. Focus Interviews. Each interview is intended to run approximately forty-five minutes and to stand as a recorded conversation based on observations and questions springing from a quilt or related object. Focus interviews are not intended to record comprehensive biographies of working quilters, but to get at questions about quilt design, techniques, sources, standards, and personal experience. 2. Touchstone Objects. Interviewees are asked to bring one object that they consider significant in their own quilting practice, preferably a quilt of their own making. The touchstone object serves two key purposes: it frames the conversation with an object chosen (self-curated) by the person being interviewed, and it provides a consistent point of reference throughout the interview. 3. Accessibility. One of the primary goals of the Quilters’ S.O.S. is to initiate a project that can be pursued readily throughout the larger quilting community. Interview equipment and techniques are therefore designed to be acquired easily and used with a minimum of training. We have also developed a comprehensive manual that is online and free to all.

To date, roughly 150 Quilters’ S.O.S. interviews have been recorded over several years at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. Among more recent projects and partnerships are interviews with quiltmakers from Philadelphia’s Art Quilts at the Sedgwick, the Daughters of the American Revolution, Mississippi River valley, and numerous state projects. All of us at The Alliance for American Quilts associated with the Quilters’ S.O.S., now under the direction of Karen Musgrave, are delighted that this growing collection of interviews will be housed in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Bernard L. Herman, Chair and Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Art History at the University of Delaware, teaches courses in material culture, vernacular architecture, folk and ethnic arts, historic preservation, and writing. His books include Everyday Architecture of the Mid-Atlantic (1997), The Stolen House (1992), A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture (1989) with Svend Holsoe and Max Belcher, Architecture and Rural Life in Central Delaware, 1700-1900 (1987), and most recently Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780-1830 (2005). In 2006 he contributed an essay, “Architectural definitions,” to the volume The Architecture of Gee’s Bend Quilts. In 2005 he worked with twelve students in a senior writing seminar, compiling, designing, and producing People Were Close, an oral and photographic history of Newark, Delaware’s historic African-American community. A second volume, Food Always Brings People Together: Stories, Poems, and Recipes from the New London Road Community was published in 2006. Currently Dr. Herman is working on two book projects: The First Period Houses of the Delaware Valley, 1675-1740, and Quilt Spaces with a particular emphasis on the quilts of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and the worlds of contemporary quiltmaking.

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The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.


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   June 23, 2011
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