Wylie House honors legacy of handwork

Now through March 12, 2022, visitors to IU Libraries' Wylie House Museum will have the opportunity to view contemporary quilts constructed by students taking Carissa Carman's Fall 2021 Fibers Quilt and Dye Intensive through IU's Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design.

In this intermediate/advanced course, students used a three-step natural dye process to design and dye cellulose fabrics using extracts and natural dye plants from the Hilltop Garden and Nature Center. Iron and tannins were also used to tone colors and achieve gradients. A research visit to Wylie House provided students with a look at antique quilts, mainly those constructed from 1840 to 1880, to provide inspiration and a visual language for quilts as pattern history.  

Home to IU's first president, Andrew Wylie, the historic house museum interprets life in the 1840s to honor its 1835 construction.  The collections of the Wylie House, operated by IU Libraries, include not just period furnishings and family correspondence, but also many personal and household textiles of the time period.  These are often used by students in various degree areas for impactful hands-on research and learning experiences.


"I researched historical dyes and some vintage quilt pieces to repair this family heirloom. On the reverse, I wanted to represent my modern hand in the mending of the quilt." - Angela Caldwell, MFA candidate for Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design

Student work in conversation with history

The final quilts are suspended or draped in the Wylie House Museum to be in further conversation with history and to honor a legacy of handwork.

Each student artist took on the design of all aspects of their quilt, including drafting the design, extracting dye and toning, pattern making, cutting and piecing, and finally, sewing together and binding the quilts.  

As professor Carman led the class, she encouraged new sewing machine confidence and innovations of dye extraction mixing. She also used the prompt juxtaposition to help students work in partnership with, or in conversation with, one of the many layers of a quilt. This relationship could interrogate dueling forces, color gradations,or subtleties in what is pieced or what is quilted.


A person wearing glasses and a flannel shirt stands on a staircase with a quilt on the railing behind him.
Dismantled by David Sloma

Sized as a 5-foot square, Sloma says this quilt is a focused spectrum of color and arranged as a seemingly random pattern that is built on a series of basket-weave grids. The idea of transition plays a major role in the directionality of the quilt’s patterning. This quilt brings an understanding of proportion and rhythm and brings the observer to ponder this question: Is the color turning to grey or is the grey becoming color?

An artist stands on a blue ladder to hang a dark colored quilt on a white wall. The quilit squares features houses and one is burning.
Neighborhood by Emily Chase

By juxtaposing the familiar, kitschy design of stacked, repeating houses, based on the traditional schoolhouse block design made popular in the 1890s, the artist creates a sense of a neighborhood in which every house is alike. This sense of sameness stands in direct conflict with the disaster occurring to one house, and the smoke overlay breaks through the regimented lines of the houses with roiling, interlocking curved lines.The friction between the nostalgia for an imperfectly remembered past and the messiness of lived reality is the conceptual core.

Framed by a brilliant red window covering, a student artists stands with a dress form draped in colorful quilted fabric.
Society Says by Sydney Crider

This quilted top, skirt, and cape is a conversation with the female body. Everything was intentional, especially the colors. Color is used very symbolically throughout the piece. Red represents artist anger towards the patriarchal society and the nonconsensual consumption of the female body and is used throughout. The white represents purity while the black symbolizes the deterioration of self through harassment or assault. The cape uses soft colors and floral patterns to represent the classic notion of femininity while also referencing sexuality.


A large quilt is taller than the person holding it so the artist can see it fully upright inside a historic house museum.


Above, Wylie Director Carey Champion holds up A Conversation to allow student artist Angela Caldwell to see it fully extended from across the room. The early 1900s quilt is 75 x 75 inches of cotton broadcloth. Caldwell notes that to mend an item refers to the act of repair – which was the initial goal with this family quilt torn apart by a very exuberant golden retriever. Research in both fabric dying and quilting allowed for a new approach – to tackle filling the hole with something more, adding to the story of the quilt, and creating a conversation among the makers and the history.


The following quilts were also completed as part of the Fall 2021 Fibers S320/S420 Quilt and Dye Intensive. Many of them can be viewed by touring the various rooms of the Wylie House Museum during the spring 2022 exhibition period.

Quiet by Jack Boardman is an homage to painter Agnes Martin and a meditation on handwork, repetition, and the beauty in quiet. It explores the ways in which subtle shifts in color and tonality can create a quiet yet profound statement in their adjacency.Through the repetitive hand-stitching with gold thread and careful attention and arrangement of the muted color palette, the quilt hopes to highlight the divinity that’s to be found in deliberate, meticulous simplicity.

SUN by Emma Kershner is a quilt that built slowly. SUN’s only characteristics that stayed from the original sketch are the muted colors, size, and bold madder circle in the center. There are three layers to this quilt: the pieced together individual squares, the checkerboard they create, and the topographical stitching that lies on top. SUN is a meditation. All quilters know the time it takes to make a quilt. It leaves a lot of time for thinking.

Topographical Play by Mary Roberts is rooted in play and imagined spaces. Colors are soft and playful and bring an airy dream-like quality. The composition is a landscape, viewed from above in an airplane, much like a topographical map. Farmlands and sectioned-off land often look like quilts when viewed from the sky.

My Chapel by Thomas Emoff represents a space to lie comfortably with oneself. There’s no greater comfort than being in your own bed and along with that, there can be nothing more uncomfortable than being in a bed that you don’t enjoy. This quilt is meant to frame whoever lies within it and provide that space of comfort we all deserve. The comfort of being settled with one’s mind, body, and spirit, their own chapel.

Capybaras at the Waterhole #2, by Jenna Starkey is inspired by a MFA final thesis gallery show oil painting. The artist had minimal background experience in sewing, dyeing, or quilting but wanted to find a way to bring painting style into a quilt composition. Fabric patterns were collected that struck the same energy as color palettes and brushstrokes held in the painting of reference, Capybaras at the Waterhole, 2021, oil on canvas.

Progress, Not Perfection by Mary Grace Jackson represents the illusion of feeling stable as being “perfect.” The bottom portion of this quilt exhibits feelings of instability. Pieces of the fabric are distressed, torn, and tattered. Despite the chaos, fragility, and brokenness within these unstable places, they are still beautiful. They are worthy, loved, and supported. The safety pins create an imperfect path between the areas of stability and that of instability. We can look back and see the progress that we have made and how much closer we are to where we want to be than we have ever been before. We are never too far off from being one or the other.


Two pepel are touching a quilt and discussing it together. It is on an antique bed in a historic house museum.
Repurposed Plastic Interception by Morgan Skiles

This quilt is 42 x 44 and made of repurposed plastic grocery bags and hand-dyed fabrics. Here, Champion and Carman discuss its unique construction. In addition to machine and free-motion quilting, hand-stitching is used to accentuate the designs and prints of the plastic bags which had been cut off during the piecing process or faded over time. The designs on both sides were chosen to incorporate a quilting pattern that would be aesthetically pleasing to each piecing design.

A person in a blue coat stands next to a blue quilt draped over an antique chair.
Blurring the Lines by Katama Murray

The translucent organza, even when printed upon with darker tones, acts as an automatic filter, just like water does for objects and organisms dwelling above or below it. When exposed to UV light using the cyanotype process, the seaweed foraged from Maine creates ambiguous imprints and silhouettes that evoke motion.