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PPWG Journal

Documenting, Interpreting, and Exhibiting a Collection of Coverlets:
Pioneers Museum, Colorado Springs, CO

Sandra S. Hutton


photo of museum
Colorasdo Springs Pioneers Museum

Members of the Pikes Peak Weavers Guild (PPWG) discovered the collection of coverlets at the Pioneers Museum in Colorado Springs when they helped sponsor the Paisley exhibit held at the museum during Convergence in 2004.  The Guild decided the coverlet collection merited documentation and photography and that data be made available to the public via exhibition and the PPWG and the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum websites.

The first objective was to explain to the museum staff what we planned and acquire their permission, support, and physical help. PPWG member Judi Arndt volunteered to spearhead the project and worked closely with Katie Gardner, curator at the museum.

Ms. Judi Arndt
Project Chairperson

The minds of PPWG members are very fertile and the project soon grew into an exhibit of selected coverlets with contemporary interpretations woven by PPWG members.  The fertile minds further expanded the project to include an international juried exhibition titled “Living with Beauty: Handwoven Textiles for the Home” held in June and July of 2008 at the Hagnauer Gallery at the Business of Art Center in neighboring Manitou Springs, Colorado. PPWG members Susan Bowman and Beverly Weaver chaired the Living with Beauty exhibition.  An exhibit catalog is available online from www.blurb.com.  While we had two distinctly different exhibitions we were working on, members worked together on both exhibits and helped with both projects whenever possible.  It was a three-year period of hard work with guild members joining together for some activities and working independently on others. This article describes activities concerned with the coverlet documentation and exhibit at the Pioneers Museum, “Beyond Bedspreads: American Heritage Through Historic and Contemporary Weavings” held April 26 through August 17, 2008.

Two fund raising activities were held to provide financial support for both exhibits. One fund raiser was a silent auction of hand made items by members of the guild.  The second fund raiser featured a sale of yarns hand painted by guild members and a silent auction of items collected in developing countries by Judi Arndt.  A little over $13,000 in sales and donations was raised during the two fund raisers.  Review fees for the juried exhibit raised nearly $2500 in addition.  Money raised was used to support the two exhibit venues with publicity, expenses surrounding hanging of the exhibit, opening receptions with publicity to the general public, and prizes for the juried exhibit.

Sandy Hutton, Maryse Levenson, and Nancy Rawson analyzing a 4-shaft overshot coverlet, Accession Number 5737Gates

An important step was to develop a form which could be used by documenters to record data about each coverlet (see Data Collection Form, Appendix A).  The data collection form was pretested by four guild members using several coverlets, and then revised and printed for use in the analysis.  Accession information about each coverlet in museum files was recorded on the corresponding data collection form.  Accession information was interesting to read.  Coverlets were called everything from bedspreads to quilts to blankets.  It very often was recorded that the wonderful Jacquard and multishaft double weave and more complex coverlets had been woven by somebody’s great grandmother or aunt. As nearly as could be determined, coverlets were mainly made in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana and transported to Colorado Springs in the 19th and 20th centuries. The majority were made on hand Jacquard looms or multishaft dobby looms. Weave structures of the coverlets were: 25 double weave, 9 overshot, 3 summer and winter, 5 tied beiderwand (4:1 and 2:1), 1 beiderwand, and 1 tied overshot with point twill.  Professionally made coverlets were more likely to have identifying marks and be in better condition than coverlets probably made by hand weavers on home looms.

Debra Holdeman, Chair of coverlet analyses measuring Accession Number 82-90-3, a Tied Beiderwand 4:1 coverlet

PPWG members volunteered (see Volunteers, Appendix B) to analyze each of the 42 coverlets and two sets of fragments (44 total).  Each volunteer was instructed by museum staff about protocol for handling the coverlets.  All analyses were performed on Mondays of 2007 in the museum.

After one side of a coverlet was analyzed, it was hung and photographed on both sides and then the second side was examined by analysts. The analysis of coverlets was supervised by PPWG member, Debra Holdeman. Colors were identified by using the Pantone textile color chips. The project was briefly described in the March/April 2007 issue of Handwoven (p. 27).

Four members identified titles for a controlled bibliography. (see Bibliography, Appendix C) Books on this list were searched to find examples of the same or similar coverlets and were cited on the analysis sheet for each coverlet. 

The opening reception had good attendance from the community and it was thrilling for PPWG members to see the historic coverlets hung with their modern interpretations. It just happened that the U.S. Senior golf tournament was held in Colorado Springs during the time of the exhibit and our exhibit became a popular tour site for golfers’ families.  The museum staff reported they were very pleased with how the exhibit drew from the community and summer visitors from the state and across the nation.  Judi Arndt conducted a gallery talk and members of the guild demonstrated weaving and spinning.  Most of the donations to the museum shop sold and we were pleased to help raise money for museum activities.

PPWG members took on these activities to provide visibility and credibility for hand weaving as an art form. Our membership is blessed with members who have a wide range of professional experiences and backgrounds which meld together well to perform the variety of tasks necessary to carry off large activities like these.  Management of venues for both exhibits were pleased with outcomes such as attracting people and the publicity generated.  PPWG members were very pleased with the results and we were sad when it was time for the exhibits to close.

Click to view the coverlet collection online.


© 2008 Pikes Peak Weavers Guild all rights reserved.