Issue 29 | New Jersey
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New Jersey is a diverse and vibrant state known for its captivating mix of bustling cities, charming suburbs, and picturesque shorelines. But this scrappy state has a long history of being underestimated, and New Jerseyans can be a little testy when their reputation is questioned. Even the authors of a deeply researched book about the state’s quilt history spoke of New Jersey as being “sometimes maligned” before punching back with gorgeous quilts and great stories.
New Jersey often gets the last laugh—as when TV host Stephen Colbert mocked Governor Phil Murphy for insisting there were three regions in the state: North Jersey, South Jersey, and Central Jersey. Colbert said there were only North and South. Five years later, Governor Murphy signed a law that designated Central Jersey as an official region and required the state’s tourism map to include it. As well it should: this bundle of four counties covers everything from bucolic state parks and wineries to the prestigious Princeton University. And speaking of being underestimated, George Washington crossed the Delaware River, leading his troops to victories in two pivotal Revolutionary War battles at Trenton and Princeton. Nassau Hall still bears the mark of a cannonball from those historic events.
In short, New Jersey is not lacking in things to boast about. From the stunning High Point State Park, offering the highest elevation in the state and a monument commemorating New Jersey’s war veterans, to the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, serving as a significant site in the development of America’s manufacturing industry. And then there’s the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk, a bustling promenade filled with casinos, entertainment, and stunning ocean views.
Quilters know their worth and deep history in New Jersey too. The Newark Museum of Art was one of the first museums in the country to recognize the importance of quilts and built an extensive collection. Some of the most celebrated quilters in the US make their home in this state of contradictions. The unity found in the art of quilting, a cherished tradition that weaves the diverse fabric of New Jersey’s communities together, remains undisputed.
Writers for this issue: Mel Burke, Rebecca Bratburd, Meg Cox, Aleeda Crawley, Frances O’Roark Dowell, Kestrel Michaud, Diane L. Murtha, Sharbreon Plummer, Carmen Schell and Teresa Duryea Wong
Photographer for this issue: Azuree Holloway
Photo Stylist: Trevor Holloway
Previews From Issue 29
From her rural farm house in Stockton, Anisha Chirmule started quilting in 2020. Since then, she’s lovingly hand quilted more than 80 quilts for friends and family. Anisha enjoys sewing together traditional, American blocks for her quilt tops, then using the scraps for improvisational backings. Through teaching yoga and making quilts, she connects to her community, including a reunion with former college classmates that resulted in a commissioned wedding quilt.
Life is a Scrappy Quilt
Beatrice Hailes began quilting when a neighbor invited—or rather, insisted she attend her quilt group. At that first meeting, Beatrice met Dianne Johnson, who was also new to quilting but turned out to be prolific, completing 15 to 20 quilts a year. When Dianne’s cancer returned, unbeknownst to the group, she began making a scrappy quilt for each of them, composed of the selvages they had given her over their years of quilting together.
Quiltmaker Becca Fenstermaker loves a good story. With a resume that runs the gamut from Black Hawk helicopter mechanic to cranberry farmer, she’s got a lot of them! Her quilts tell stories too. Like a mockingbird, Becca takes inspiration from many sources and pieces them together to make quilts that are uniquely her own.
Garden State Quilting Legends
Quilting icons Bisa Butler and Faith Ringgold have much in common: their fine art training, their transcendence of the world of craft into high art, and their bold narrative quilts that center Black culture and history. Though they differ in medium and process, the impact of their work is undeniable, and Bisa makes no secret of her gratitude for Faith, whose groundbreaking career has helped fuel her own.
Daisi Toegel turned her craft into a career. From her home in Plainfield, New Jersey, she’s forged partnerships with Missouri Star Quilt Company, OLFA, Riley Blake Designs, Cotton Cuts, and others, while releasing patterns for magazines and her online shop since 2017. Her business name, Flower Sew Patterns, represents her colorful personality and love for scrappy quilts, mostly minis, in an array of punchy colors. Daisi says quilting is an easy way to feel joy in life, including marking special occasions and commemorating loved ones.
Dana Balsamo is a professional auctioneer with a booming business in quilts, textiles, clothing, jewelry, hats, toys, and more. She’s just moved into a big new warehouse in Princeton, and she’s quickly gained a reputation as the go-to auctioneer for antique quilts. She is the lively, chanting voice for the American Quilt Study Group Seminar’s annual auction, along with antique dealer Julie Silber, and she’s got big plans for her business, Dana Auctions.
Florence Peto was an advocate for womens’ voices in an era when there were very few, and she especially believed in the importance of recording the histories of those who produced quilts in the 1800s. Her dedication and careful craftsmanship paved a path forward for quilting as an art form, an archival record, and a skill to be highly regarded.
Glendora Simonson, a lifelong seamstress with a rich family history of crafting, developed her passion for sewing, embroidery, and quilting from a young age. Her journey from traditional quilting to narrative art quilts with diverse themes has been marked by a willingness to experiment and challenge conventions, even incorporating political and social justice messages into her work. Glendora’s artistic evolution and her commitment to self-expression and inclusivity led her to found the Nubian Heritage Quilters Guild, which has thrived for nearly three decades, welcoming a diverse membership.
Helen Ernst’s journey into quilting began by watching her grandmother in Sweden and kicked into full gear after taking her first class with her mother. More than 30 years later, Helen has a deep passion for repurposing vintage fabrics and quilts, partnering with her fellow quilters, and connecting with her community across the country.
Hundreds of Years of New Jersey Quilts
The history of quilts in this state is long and rich and beloved. Launched in 1987, The Heritage Quilt Project of New Jersey documented more than 2,600 quilts made between 1777 and 1950, from all 21 counties. Those who worked on the project also took note of the pronounced regional differences among many of the older quilts—a testament to the variety of cultures who settled here.
For 16 years, Miss Kat was part of a troupe of seven sisters who performed, sang, and discussed quilts and slavery. Today, two of the sisters have passed away and the others have retired from performing, but Kathleen Lindsey keeps going. She is determined to teach history to children and adults through song, narrative, and quilts, so we won’t forget the horrors of slavery—and more importantly, so we won’t repeat the past.
Krishma Patel’s quilting journey began when her uncle took her to an outlet mall, and she stumbled upon a pop-up shop displaying award-winning quilts. That encounter inspired her to spend the next decade learning all she could about quilting, and once she finally made her first quilt, she couldn’t stop. Now a full-time quilter who’s won awards of her own, Krishma finds her greatest creative fulfillment in organizing community quilt projects.
Lisa Shepard Stewart
Lisa Shepard Stewart, a multi-talented creator, has cultivated a vibrant career shaped by her love of fabric and her intuitive approach to life. A life-changing trip to Senegal in 1986 introduced her to the world of West African textiles. This experience led her to create culturally relevant home decor books and become a leader in sewing techniques. Lisa’s passion for these boldly patterned fabrics ultimately gave birth to Cultured Expressions, a haven that not only offers fabrics and books but also business coaching, classes, and quilting retreats. She remains deeply connected to West Africa, supporting local artisans and the Royal Crown Academy in Ghana, sharing her success with a region that has inspired her.
Princeton Sankofa Stitchers Modern Quilt Guild
In just seven years, the Princeton Sankofa Stitchers Modern Quilt Guild (PSSMQG) has evolved into a dynamic space for self-expression, artistic growth, and cultural preservation under the leadership of Co-Presidents Juandamarie Gikandi (Juanda) and Mada Galloway. Juanda’s desire to connect with fellow quilters who appreciate modern quilting’s broad scope and the importance of Black quilting traditions led to the guild’s founding. Guided by the concept of “Sankofa,” from Ghana’s Akan culture, they emphasize learning from the past. They recently recreated Harriet Powers’ Pictorial and Bible Quilts, bridging her historical work with modern elements. Their aim is to share Powers’ legacy with the world, celebrating her as a pioneer in African American story quilts.
Newark Museum of Art
Bisa Butler, Faith Ringgold, and Luke Haynes are all represented in the collections of The Newark Museum of Art. These contemporary artworks sit alongside an impressive collection of antique quilts and coverlets, some of which have attracted the attention of quilt researchers, who visited the archives to study 19th century coverlets made in New Jersey.
Mark Lipinski is the personality behind Quilt Out Loud!, Creative Mojo, and countless other pursuits, and for many years, he had a thriving career in the quilt world. But when illness forced him to set that career aside, he had to discover new ways to keep creating and found that it changed his conception of what it means to be an artist.
Robert Morris School Quilting Club
Dr. Lorise Goeke uses her lunch break to teach her students how to quilt. The enthusiasm has proved contagious—this year, she has 29 students, ranging in age from 10 to 13. Lorise loves combining her passion for quilting with her passion for teaching, and she tirelessly supports her students as they work to piece a quilt for Quilts of Valor.
Teresa Barkley has been captivated by patchwork patterns and vintage art since childhood. By incorporating historical fabrics like flour sacks, commemorative handkerchiefs, and cigarette silks into her quilts, her creative talent gives new life to the memorabilia of bygone eras.