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Detail of an embroidered "Crazy Quilt" from The History Center textile collections.


Knot Sew Fast: Patchwork of Tompkins County was on display at The History Center in Tompkins County from February-December 2023. 

Knot Sew Fast pulls from the extensive textile and fabric arts collections held by The History Center to lay out the stories these functional artworks tell about Tompkins County history.

Piecing together the story of quilts encourages us to consider shifts in technology, industry, transportation, and materials over generations of local life. As we unravel (figuratively) each quilt we consider the hands that did the work, and the stories they captured in every knot and stitch. In addition to historic quilts displayed from four of the nine townships of Tompkins, there are interactive patternmaking stations in the Exhibit Hall; an invitation for our modern audience to try their hand at replicating patterns from ancestral woven Haudenosaunee belts to modern-day art quilts.

Quilts are a unique measure to explore history as the practice of quilting was a skill developed and practiced equally by historic Ithacan city-dwellers, as well as our rural township communities of Trumansburg, Groton, Dryden, Lansing, Caroline, Newfield, and Danby. The merging of this functional skill, and the hundreds of hours and handwork displayed in each quilt shares narratives about community, history, home, and skilled labor.

Knot Sew Fast will encourage a slower recognition of the diversity of textiles and patterns, as well as the hands and minds that created them. 

Exhibit Hall Displays

What can a quilt tell us about the history of enslavement, and slave owners in Tompkins County? Or which locally grown herbs were used in medicinal home remedies? What can quilts tell us about families and community?

Historically, quilt-makers (mostly women) performed important but undervalued labor, with their lives less likely to be formally documented. Each quilt is a record of hundreds to thousands of hours of hand labor by both our rural and urban Tompkins County ancestors. These makers lives are informally documented in their choice of pattern, fabric, and the stitches that comprise each quilt.

From quilts made from clothing scraps to quilts entirely of imported silks - the story of fabric, industry, and transportation is tied up in our understanding of how the materials for each quilt made their way to centrally isolated Tompkins County in the 19th and 20th centuries. Knot Sew Fast showcases nearly half of The History Center's quilt collection, but looks at each hand sewn work through the lens of the women, families, and communities who made them. Drawing a connection between the sewing circles of rural Danby in the 1800's to the modern quilt guilds that meet in Tompkins County today. 


  • Black History Quilt Honoring African Americans in New York State - ca. 1995
  • Boardman Family Whitework Quilt - ca. 1870
  • Bruce Family 'Square in a Square' - ca. 1860-1875
  • Caroline Bicentennial Quilt - ca. 1976
  • Crutts Family Quilt - ca. 1880
  • Frear Family 'Twelve Crowns' Quilt - ca. 1840-1860
  • McGowan Family 'Lily of the West' - ca. 1858
  • Snyder Album Family Quilt - ca. 1840s
  • Star of Bethlehem - ca 1850
  • Todd Family Four Patch - ca. mid-1800's
  • Women of Influence: Each Block a Story - on loan from the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum - ca. 2021

Additional unfinished blocks, sewing implements and other quilting ephemera from The History Center collections also on display in the Exhibit Hall.

A picture of the cover of Carrie Manning's Diary.

1869: A Year in Quilting on display in the 'Passage Through Time' tunnel draws from our reference and Research Library  collections. Carrie Mannings Diary 1869 documents a year in the life of a local teenager circa the mid 19th century. Carrie's diary was first printed for the public by the DeWitt Historical Society (now The History Center in Tompkins County) in 1956, and has been re-printed locally a number of times. Her diary from the year includes her reflections as she worked on her own patchwork quilt, slowly piecing together scraps of her own story. Carrie died in the Town of Ithaca at 18 years old, and her diary is a rare record of a child's memories of life, work, and play in Tompkins County. Purchase Carrie Manning's Diary.

Here Comes the Sun'Here Comes the Sun' on loan from the 40 Quilts for 40 Beds project, coordinated by the Community Quiltmaking Center, joined the 'Knot Sew Fast: Patchwork of Tompkins County' quilt exhibit from September-December 2023

The Community Quiltmaking Center and a growing group of individuals and organizations across Tompkins County have come together with free fabric and resources to help make the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County's vision for handmade quilts on every bed at their new Open Access Detox Center a reality. Together, through this collaborative quilt project, they also hope to increase our community’s awareness and understanding of addiction, and lessen the stigma attached to this illness that impacts the lives of so many.

 'Here Comes the Sun' is a design inspired by the quilter's brother, who recovered from addiction nearly 30 years ago after entering a similar detox facility. The History Center is honored to highlight this current community project which connects those in recovery to the warmth and beauty preserved in every quilt stitch. '40 Quilts for 40 Beds' is the most recent in a long local history of the ways that quilts, quiltmakers, and those that the quilts keep warm, continue to weave their stories and impact into our shared understanding and reflection of life in Tompkins County over the past two centuries. 


The 'Women of Influence: Each Block a Story' quilt has been returned to the Seneca Iroquois National Museum for their upcoming exhibit 'Here, Now, and Always Haudenosaunee Beadwork' opening in Salamanca NY on September 23rd 2023. We hope you'll plan a visit!. 

Women of Influence: Each Block A Story quilt was on loan from the Seneca Iroquois National Museum and on display as part of Knot Sew Fast from February-August 2023. Quilts have long been used in Native communities to honor individuals of distinction. Women of Influence: Each Block A Story builds on that tradition, bringing together 41 Haudenosaunee women who stitched thousands of beads in honor of the Native women who provided support, inspiration, and love for each of them. Beaded samples from the 1940, created by Dorothy Blacksnake Jimerson (Seneca), a grandmother of two of the participants, inspired the use of the flat beadwork style used throughout the quilt. 

A poster showing a picture of the Women of Influence: Each Block A Story quilt.

Knot Sew Fast - Events & Programs


Beyond the Exhibit Hall in Tompkins County Quilts

Digital exhibit 'Patterns: Quilting in Tompkins County'A poster that says "THE HISTORY CENTER IN TOMPKINS COUNTY presents PATTERNS Quilting in Tompkins County Narrated by Slyvie Yntema"

Researchers are encouraged to schedule appointments in our Research Library & Archives to review the following archival materials from our textile related collections:


The Tompkins County Quilters Guild was established in 1974, at a time when there were no local, state, or national organizations to support quilting. That year Jeanne Greene, a board member of Ithaca’s City Federation of Women’s Organizations, suggested holding a weekend quilt show to measure local interest, and 500 people came to see quilts on display at the Women’s Community Building. Shortly afterwards the Quilters Guild formed and began planning a major show for August 21-27 in 1976. Their Bicentennial Finger Lakes Quilt Exhibit displayed 600 quilts from 14 area counties, staged many lectures, workshops and demonstrations, attracted 8,200 visitors from 31 states and 10 foreign countries, and was hailed as the largest such show to date in the nation.  

Members of the Quilters Guild began donating their records to The History Center's archives in 2011 and we are delighted to keep adding to this rich collection. It contains business records, grant and workshop information, newsletters, correspondence, programs and publicity for quilt shows, and much more.

Tompkins County Quilt Books

Carrie Mannings Diary 1869

A picture of the cover of Carrie Manning's Diary 1869, with an image of fall leaved in the middle. Next to the leaves the text reads "Carrie Manning's Diary 1869 Edited By William Heidt, Jr. Adapted for Junior Historians By Curtis Pfaff" Below that it says "DeWitt Historical Society of Tompkins County 1962 THE WHITE CHURCH CABIN COUNTRY STORE 2011"

Twice Told Tales: History, Literature, and Family Lore Retold in Narrative Quilts

Cover of Twice-Told Tales History, Literature, and Family Lore Retold in Narrative Quilts" By Patty Elwin Davis. Cover is black with an image of a quilt in the center.

50 Years of Ellis Hollow Quilting: 1966-2016

Cover of "50 YEARS OF ELLIS HOLLOW QUILTING" which features two small pictures of quilts.

Follow Along at #TompkinsHistory on


Follow @TompkinsHistory on Facebook, Instagram,, LinkedIn, YouTube, and SoundCloud as we highlight stories of #TompkinsHistory over the centuries.

Post your own stories and use the hashtag #TompkinsHistory, #TompkinsQuilts and #TextileTuesdays to join the conversation.


Physical Address

Located inside the Tompkins Center for History & Culture

110 North Tioga Street

(On the Ithaca Commons) 

Ithaca NY, 14850 USA

Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ Territory


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