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York woman stitches together love of history and fabric

Rocky Mountain Quilts capture history in fabric form.

YORK, Maine — Back in the day, most history was recorded with pen and paper; for one woman in York, her pieces of history are woven, and dyed, cut and stitched lovingly in to glorious works of art. Ask Betsey Telford-Goodwin to tell you about any quilt in her shop, and you’ll get quite a story. “They’re all gorgeous fabrics that are either block printed , hand painted early fabrics, some of them on here go back to the 1700's. It’s stunning, happy, sophisticated, all of the above – and in perfect condition."

With 700 antique quilts in her shop, there are a lot of stories. She knows the story of each one, because she’s traveled the world to find and collect these stunning creations. Many she’s restored and brought back to life. It is the largest collection of antique quilts for sale in the country.

She literally  surrounds herself with history – living in a home in York built in 1748, and converting the horse barn to house her quilt shop. She started buying quilts about 30 years ago when she lived out West in Colorado.

"I was actually buying them from the women who made them during the Depression. So I could sit and listen to them  and they would tell me about their environment, how they made them, why they made them, the history of them, which was… I mean … talk about an education!"

Rocky Mountain Quilts was born, where she stitched her love of sewing together with a love of history – and began collecting, appraising, restoring, and selling beautiful antique quilts. Along the way, she has become an expert in dating the quilts, figuring out how, when and where  a quilt was made. "So you date a quilt by the newest piece of fabric. And once you’ve figured that out, then you have to check threads. And make sure it was finished at the time it was started."

You can almost picture the women who made these quilts, and – like their creators,  these quilts are the ‘steel magnolias’ of the art world – made lovingly to last and be handed down through generations. But in some cases, fabrics deteriorate over time, and require some careful restoration.

"I am a textile restorer -- I believe my company is the only company  in America, and maybe the world,  that restores antique quilts only using original same-date fabric." So while she was collecting quilts, she was also buying up antique fabrics for their restoration  – she  bought all the fabric she could find – 'millions of pieces of fabric’ she says, some of the it dating back to the 1780’s.  The fabric is as valuable to her as the quilts, because in some cases, she cannot find any more of it. "I only use the same fabric. The original fabric is left underneath. So unlike furniture restoration where the patina is taken off --  if you can find the pieces that I’ve restored, and you shouldn’t be able to, and lift them, you will find the original piece underneath."

She is a self-professed ‘fabric junkie’ – learning later in her life that she had a great grandfather who ran four textile mills in New England – manufacturing the same fabric that she now searches out to use in restorations. It would seem this passion for preserving antique quilts was woven in to her DNA. But the joy and reward in this work comes from the beauty of the quilt, and the satisfaction of holding  a small piece of history.

Lovingly pulling quilt after quilt from the wall, she beams with pride as she tells each story – almost like a proud parent bursting with delight about a child.  "This is a trapunto quilt, it would have taken years to make this quilt. Not only is it beautiful pieced, and then quilted within a 1/16th of an inch of it’s life,  but then you separate threads on the back and stuff it. It’s called a trapunto, it’s one in a million. I mean you’re talking years worth of work."

The quilts are stunning, and enduring - - each represents a place in time where handiwork and creativity intersects with beauty, practicality  and timelessness. For Betsey, they convey the perseverance and extraordinary skill of the women who created them.

Many of the quilts look brand new – the  bold colors have stood the test of time –"This is woman’s work. Women’s work is totally undervalued. This is history. It tells the life story of people."  Most of the quilts that Betsey sells are now used as wall hangings, they are works of art.  But as beautiful and as valuable as these quilts are, they are more sturdy than you might think – after all, many of them are a hundred or two hundred years old and are still in pristine condition. Betsey washes all the quilts by hand, using organic soaps – none of these quilts have seen the inside of a washing machine.

For Betsey, they convey the perseverance and extraordinary skill of the women who created them. She is still restoring quilts and working with clients, online or by appointment outside her shop.You can learn more about Betsey and her stunning collection of antique quilts at http://www.rockymountainquilts.com/, or by calling her at 207-363-6800.

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