My passion for textiles began before I really can remember. My earliest memories are watching my mother’s hands fly as she fed fabric under the needle on her sewing machine. I was sure she was going to catch her finger instead of fabric!
My father couldn’t pound a nail into the wall without hurting himself, so Mom was also in charge of all home repairs. I was her assistant. I learned how to take her sewing machine and the vacuum apart and oil all of the pieces. The small cupboard we constructed is still hanging in a corner in the house. As a teen I was embarrassed when, instead of buying an interesting item, Mom would ask if she could draw a pattern!
My mother and I explored whatever was fashionable in the craft world—embroidery, knitting, crochet, clothing construction, macramé, fabric painting. I wasn’t patient enough to match pattern pieces or undo work when I dropped stitches, so I gravitated towards embroidery and crocheting. I still have the turquoise purse with a yellow flower that I crocheted at age 8 and the denim work shirt that I thought was the epitome of cool in high school. As an adult, I honed my embroidery skills and began to design my own pieces.
I also became fascinated with historic textiles. I frequented the library, looking for inspiration. It was during my “sampler stage” that I discovered quilts. The stories, the colors, and the life in the quilts fascinated me. I slept under a quilt made by my grandmother. Suddenly the fabrics—from my blouses, my dad’s pajamas, my mother’s dresses and my sister’s prom gown had more meaning. There was a connection there that brought me great comfort and kept me cozy at night.
When I returned to school after a couple of attempts to find a career that intrigued me, I decided to pursue my passion for needle arts. I got degrees in art history, focusing on American textiles. And then, at nearly the exact time I returned to Nebraska to pursue my PhD, nearly 1,000 quilts arrived. I’ll never forget the feeling when I read the newspaper article that announced the donation. I knew at that moment my life had changed. I just didn’t know how much, or how wonderfully, it had.
I was hired as Curator of Collections at the International Quilt Study Center in 1998: my dream job. I’ve traveled the world, made great friends, and literally played with quilts nearly every day since then. I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Carolyn Ducey is curator of collections at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She oversees new acquisitions and ongoing care of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum’s collection of nearly 4,500 quilts.
Carolyn earned a M.A. in American art history from Indiana University in 1998, and her Ph.D.in Textiles, Clothing & Design, with an emphasis in quilt studies at the University of Nebraska in 2010. She has curated a number of exhibitions, including “Chintz Appliqué: From Imitation to Icon,” “What’s in a Name: Inscribed Quilts,” and co-curated “Quilts in Common.” She is author of the monograph Chintz Appliqué: from Imitation to Icon, (2008), and co-author of What’s in a Name: Inscribed Quilts (2012).