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Folsom museum displays antique quilts, including some nearly lost

Warmth, heritage, history draw Judi Fibush to quilts

Quilt collector and restorer Judi Fibush says vintage quilts are more than pieces of cloth. Rather, they have their own history and heritage - along with warmth - that give them a special place in her life.
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Quilt collector and restorer Judi Fibush says vintage quilts are more than pieces of cloth. Rather, they have their own history and heritage - along with warmth - that give them a special place in her life.

With needle and thread, quilt restorer Judi Fibush takes care of unfinished business.

Combing through antique stores or eBay offerings, she finds remnants of other quilters’ patchwork, often at a discount. She gravitates to colorful quilt tops that aren’t quite completed or stitched to a backing.

“People ignore them because they think they’re too much work,” Fibush said with a knowing smile. “They are a lot of work, but they’re worth it.”

A retired Silicon Valley executive recruiter, Fibush appreciates the history that comes with the fabric. She enjoys researching a quilt’s origins as part of each project. Most of all, the Rocklin woman loves bringing a once-beloved piece of needlework – damaged through decades of use or neglect – back to colorful life.

Four of her restored antique quilts are now on display at the Folsom History Museum as part of the Folsom Historical Society’s 37th annual Vintage Quilt Show.

That event showcases star quilts – patchwork that features starlike patterns. In addition, the show includes a salute to quilt-making author Ruby Short McKim. This year marks the 100th anniversary of her first published pattern, the “Quaddy Quiltie” with blocks depicting woodland animals.

“We have more than 40 quilts on display,” said show organizer Carol Gebel, herself a quilter. “Ruby McKim really was a woman ahead of her time, so we wanted to celebrate the centennial of her first design.”

During the 1920s and ’30s, McKim’s designs were popularized in newspaper articles and prestamped quilt kits that let beginners create complicated appliqued or embroidered designs. The novice quilt maker just needed to stitch along the blue lines. Other kits featured precut patches to assemble.

A school teacher, McKim made designs that children could follow, too. With a quilting renaissance in the 1970s, McKim’s patchwork and applique designs again became popular with home quilt makers, many of them discovering the fabric art for the first time.

“I think they’re just adorable,” Fibush said of McKim’s designs.

Hand-sewing thousands of tiny stitches, Fibush has restored several kit quilts and McKim designs. But that’s only a small piece of her unusual quilt collection and its unique insight into the fabric of America.

As a collector, she has about 150 antique and vintage quilts. Several are still works in progress in her Rocklin sewing room.

“I seldom pay a lot of money for anything,” Fibush said. “But I get the stuff that needs to be finished. I like to finish things. I almost never start brand new.”

Currently, Fibush is completing a cigar ribbon quilt started a century ago. Usually gold or red, these printed silk ribbons originally bound bundles of cigars, often from Cuba. She’s also stitching the background of a 1930s vintage appliqued quilt that will be on display next year at the New England Quilt Museum.

“I like hand quilting, particularly with older fabrics,” she said. “I don’t like to piece (together patchwork); I like to hand quilt.”

Other quilters marvel at Fibush’s handiwork and ingenuity. Gebel noted an embroidered wool crazy quilt, dating to the mid-1800s, that Fibush made whole again.

“Judi is quite an accomplished restorer,” Gebel said. “Her work is beautiful.”

The most unusual quilts in Fibush’s collection are made from “tobacco premiums,” which were originally offered as little collectible bonuses to buyers of cigarettes, cigars and loose tobacco.

Intended to be made into quilts or pillows, these cloth premiums were introduced in the late 1800s about the same time as cigarette cards, the earliest collectible baseball cards. About the same 2-by-3-inch size as the cards, colorful patches of silk or cotton flannel depicted baseball players, stage actors, heads of state, animals, flags, landmarks, flowers, American Indian headdresses, Navajo blankets, state seals, fraternal orders and many other images.

“They were a way to get more women to smoke,” Fibush noted, “or to get women to get their husbands to buy more tobacco so they could collect more patches.”

Smokers could trade coupons for larger cloth patches or send away for special patches via premium catalogs. At their height of popularity before World War I, millions of tobacco premium patches were distributed, Fibush said. Most were produced between 1910 and 1916.

“But they weren’t meant to last,” she said. “They were inexpensive giveaways. You can’t wash them. You spill any water on them, and the ink bleeds out. The artwork just disappears; they’re gone. They’re also very sun-sensitive.”

That’s made these former freebies particularly rare.

“At shows, the men just gravitate to these quilts,” Fibush said as she surveyed flag designs and images of world leaders.

While baseball cards are still produced today, collectible cloth patches were phased out during World War I because cotton and other fabrics were needed by the military, she explained. The surviving patches represent history as well as craftsmanship.

“They’re so colorful,” Fibush said. “I just love them because there’s so much history involved. It’s not just fabric.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

37th annual Vintage Quilt Show

Where: Folsom History Museum, 823 Sutter St., Folsom

When: Through May 29. Museum open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

Admission: $5; seniors (age 60 and up), $4; youths (ages 6-17), $2; children age 5 or younger admitted free.

Details: 916-985-2707, www.folsomhistoricalsociety.org

Highlights: This year’s theme, “Heavenly Stars and Other Beauties,” features star quilts, crib quilts and the work of Ruby Short McKim.

Vintage resource: For more on vintage quilts and Judi Fibush’s collection, go to www.vintagekitquilts.net.

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