North Dakota Quilt Project

An early quilt exhibit in Fort Yates, ND c. 1919

As part of North Dakota’s Centennial Celebration, organizations around the state took up the challenge of undertaking projects which preserve and celebrate our culture and heritage during the 100 years of statehood.

From 1987 to 1989, the Quilter’s Guild of North Dakota set out to document the state’s cherished quilts as their contribution to the state’s centennial celebration.

The guild hosted Discovery Days in 35 locations around the state. Residents were asked to bring their family quilts in a Discovery Days location to have the quilts and a two page questionnaire about the history of the quilt and its maker recorded.

“Folk arts, including quilting, are now recognized as important parts of our heritage,” said project chairperson Kim Baird, Fargo, ND. “Many old quilts have been worn out or thrown out — we wanted to preserve a record of those that remained.”

In order to be included in the project, the quilt had to have been made before 1960 and have a connection to North Dakota — either made by or owned by a resident of the state. Old quilt tops that were never completed were also welcomed.

The 3,500 quilts documented by the project were only a fraction of those that exist. According to Baird, Discovery Days around the nation like those hosted in North Dakota recorded just 5% of the quilts that are hidden away in trunks and attics. “Quilts deteriorate,” she said. “People don’t realize their value. So we tried to raise awareness about the value of preserving a family’s heritage pieces.”

The North Dakota Quilt Project ended its documentation stage with a quilt show, A Century of Quilts, which traveled North Dakota during the centennial in 1989. The show included 45 quilts spanning more than 100 years. The quilts in the show represented the five periods of quilting:

  • Territorial Days — pre 1889. The oldest quilts in the show were typically made elsewhere and brought with the pioneers who settled the region.
  • Turn of the Century – 1889 to 1910
  • First Quilt Revival – 1920s to 1940s
  • Postwar Era – 1950s to 1960s
  • Second Quilt Revival – mid 1970s

All the documents and photographs are available for study at the State Archives in Bismarck, or through the Quilters’ Guild of North Dakota, PO. Box 2662, Fargo, ND 58108.

Century of Quilts Online Project is sponsored by:

  • Fargo Moorhead Quilters (formerly known as Quilters’ Guild of North Dakota)
  • Valley Quilters
  • Capital Quilters
  • North Star Quilters Guild
  • Badlands Quilters
  • Piecemakers Quilt Guild
  • Prairie Public Television