A cold New Eng­land night is no match for the warmth and comfort of your favorite quilt.

Handmade quilts are not only a favorite way to keep your bed warm and toasty, but they are also a beautiful and unique addition to your home’s decor.

The art of quilt making dates back as early as 3400 BC, and has been pre­valent in U.S. homes for centuries.

In its earlier days, quilt making was less of an artform, and more of a practical necessity to provide protection against the cold by stitching together layers of padding and scrap materials.

Quilt making eventually became not only a practical item but also a decorative household piece of art, showcasing bright colors, intricate patterns, and fine needlework.

Perhaps the finest example of early colonial quiltwork is shown in the Bal­timore Album Quilts. These elaborate and skillfully made quilts were popular between 1840 to 1860, and were made by women in the wealthy circle of Baltimore, MD. During this time period, only the weal­thy would have enough leisure time to spend on these massively labor in­tensive works of art.

The Baltimore Album Quilts set the standard for skill and technique in ear­ly American decorative art.

Combining applique work, piercing, and chintz cut outs, the women of Balti­more created wreaths, baskets, flowers, fruits, trees and animals out of cloth and thread. These designs were then enhanced with padding, embroidery, and inked details.

The popularity of these quilted works of art spread throughout the Bal­timore area, and then other United States communities.

However, the “copy” version of other quilts rarely equal the skill level and beauty of the original Bal­timore Album quilts.

For a limited time the splendour of the Balti­more Album Quilts can be seen right here in our own backyard at the New Eng­land Quilt Museum, located at 18 Shattuck St. in Lowell. This museum was founded in 1987 and is the second oldest quilt museum in the United States.

The NEQM will present a collection of the famed Baltimore Album Quilts from now until Dec. 31, 2020. This historically im­portant collection features some of the finest examples of quilting from the pre-civil war era.

Also on display until Dec. 31 is the Quilted Can­vas III exhibit. This collection is a vast contrast to the quilting techniques of the Baltimore collection, featuring the contemporary works produc­ed by Judi Blayon, Rhoda Cohen, Nancy Hal­pern, and Jan Myers-Newbury.

These classically trained artists all chose fabric as their primary medium to create unconventional ver­sions of the patchwork quilt, inspired by the “hip­py movement” of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Besides the special ex­hibits that are featured at the NEQM, the museum also houses a permanent quilt exhibit and one of the largest quilting libra­ries in America.

The NEQM library has thousands of resources available to quiltmakers of all skill levels including reference and instructional books, current and back issues of quilting magazines, and rare and out of print books.

The NEQM is open Tues­day through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admis­sion is $9 for adults, while children under 12 are free.

To maintain a healthy mu­seum environment, the NEQM asks all visitors to comply with COVID-19 guidelines by wearing face masks and following social distancing markers and signs.

The NEQM is also offering a virtual experience for those who prefer to stay in the comfort and safety of their own home during the ongoing pandemic.

Online offerings include virtual exhibits, tours, work­shops and quilt guilds.

The American art of quil­ting has far more to offer than a safe retreat from the cold of the unforgiving winter season. The simplistic allure of quilting appeals not only to the quilting hobbyist, but also to history buffs and art lovers alike.

A visit to the New Eng­land Quilt Museum shows a seldom seen look at the beautiful folk art created in the everyday home of past generations. This makes for a tranquil re­minder of a simpler time, especially compared to the complexities of our modern day lives.

For more information on the New England Quilt Museum, or to enjoy one of their many virtual offerings, visit www.neqm.org.

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