A tradition that goes back at least five generations keeps a family threaded together. The women in Victoria Alcorn’s family are skilled quilters, an art form that began out of necessity and grew into a creative hobby that her great grandmother, grandmother, great aunt, and mother enjoyed doing together. The North East native started with a quilting class in middle school, but as she grew to explore different interests, she naturally fell away from it. With the recent passing of her grandmother, she re-established her interest and appreciation for the practical art form and what it means to her family.
Victoria graduated from Penn State Behrend in 2018 with a degree in Arts Administration. For her Senior Capstone project, she decided to honor her family’s tradition and her grandmother through a quilting exhibit titled “The Many Threads of Quilting.”
Thanks to the Erie Art Gallery and the North East Crazy Quilters guild, Victoria was able to piece together a display of nearly 50 quilts, which allowed viewers to travel through time and see the progression from traditional quilting to more modern styles. You can view a 3D rendering of the exhibit, created in collaboration with ErieMultimedia, here.
I had the honor of meeting Victoria, as well as her mother, Holly Alcorn, and great aunt, Debby Seifert. Victoria discussed how quilting fits in the fabric of her life as a modern young American. Read on to see what she has to say:
Did it surprise you how popular your exhibit became?
I guess I didn’t think of it as popular. I was surprised at how many people I didn’t know showed up, but I try to be humble about it. I marketed it in quilt shops and to a local guild. Some of the people from the quilting guilds in both North East and Erie attended, as well as a girl from campus and another artist. The guild provided me with PVC pipes so that I could add “walls” to the middle of the exhibit and fit more quilts. One of the quilting shops that helped me was The Calico Patch. That’s actually where I started, and when the previous owners moved on due to health reasons, it was picked up by my favorite teacher.
What is something you admire about quilters, both past and present?
Tradition. I’m a very traditional person. I also admire that it’s changing and can reflect the person you are in colors, patterns, and the way you go about doing it. It connects you to your past and to your loved ones, as well. I can go downstairs and talk to my mom and quilt, and we will just enjoy each other’s company.
Before you begin, do you go in with an idea first or not?
The pattern comes first. Then I go in and find the fabric that goes with it. I may go in later with multiple ideas, but I have to start with that structured baseline. Sometimes I’ll go to a show and see something I like that I want to try later, so I would then buy the pattern.
How has your view of your family and the rich quilting history changed since you have started quilting?
I definitely have more appreciation for it now. Before I took it more for granted and I didn’t think about it as much when my Grandma was here. I have always been family oriented and have appreciated those family relationships; we have spent a lot of time together as an extended family. It’s something you have to make time for, and it connects you to the past. I appreciate the fact that no matter where I go, I can always take it with me.
Since quilting is a tradition in your family, do you tend to compare your quilting skills with the skills of others?
If I was doing the same thing as someone else, just different colors, then I would be more self-conscious, but not in a self-judgmental way. I think about how I never thought to use those colors, that pattern, etc. It’s more of a cohesive community where you can share ideas and stretch your creativity.
What is the most challenging aspect of quilting?
Visualization. I have to diagram it and draw it out to scale, matching the measurements. That part is hard because I have never been good at math. With one quilt, I did it backwards. I started with squares and measured them afterwards, but it’s easier to start with a pattern.
Are you at all worried about quilting dying off?
Yes and no. It’ll continue to change with the modern times and changing technology. Most people aren’t starting as young as I did. Sometimes the grandparents aren’t sure if the younger generations will appreciate it, so they don’t show them until later. When I graduated, they cut the home economics classes, but now they’re bringing sewing classes back.
To have an appreciation for quilting, you have to know its history as part of the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, etc. Quilts can tell history, so I don’t think that connection to the past will ever change.
What is a common misconception about quilting?
That it’s for old people. Yes, older people do it because people often take it up later in life and they’re the ones who can afford it. In order to make a quilt last, you need quality fabric, and quality is measured by thread count and feel. Another misconception is that it’s difficult. On the other hand, some people think it’s easier than it is. Really, it’s just something you learn and find out more about as you go.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn quilting?
Just do it, and don’t be afraid to do it. Don’t be afraid to reach out to more seasoned quilters to learn, because they want to spread the knowledge so that younger generations can try it. I would also recommend taking an introductory class, something you don’t necessarily have to commit to if you decide it isn’t for you.
What did you want people to take away from your exhibit?
I wanted it to be treated more as an exhibit than a show. It showcased the different aspects of quilting, including art, craftsmanship, and workmanship. Quilts can be displayed and used in many ways, and they have many threads. They can be memorialized and tell a history filled with rich family memories.
Thank you, Victoria, for sharing your project and family tradition with us!
Erin Maloney recently obtained her Associate’s degree in Business Administration Marketing & Management from Fortis Institute. She is a poet and a writer who is passionate about art and helping it reach all who can be touched by it. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.