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The New New England Heirlooms

“It’s like a painting,” she explains. “I add pieces of fabric in response to what’s there.”

After she sews the blocks together, Schmidt marks the top with quilting lines. The only step of the process she outsources is the actual quilting; she sends the piece to a group of Amish women in Minnesota, who quilt it by hand. “If I did the quilting myself,” she says, “I’d make one quilt per year.” With outsourcing, a couture quilt takes about four months start to finish.

Though Schmidt’s work has been lauded for its contemporary appeal, it’s deeply rooted in traditional patchwork. “My patterns are inspired by the quilts that I fell in love with when I started studying this,” she explains. “Many are more than 100 years old.” She’s currently writing a book about traditional quilt patterns. She’s also constantly thinking about new designs. “I keep journals and make sketches whenever I’m inspired,” she notes. “The inspiration could be anything–a piece of lace, a picture from a magazine, a couple of old houses next to each other in a striking combination of colors.”

Another inspiration–in a completely different medium–is fiddle music. “I listen to a lot of old-time music, and I fell in love with homegrown hillbilly music,” Schmidt says. “So I learned to play the fiddle. For me, it’s another way of taking a traditional craft and bringing it into today’s world.”

Schmidt’s studio, in an old mill building in Bridgeport, Connecticut, gives a nod to the past as well. “I grew up in central Massachusetts, and the small old mill towns so prevalent in that area are part of my inner landscape,” she says. “My mother sewed, and we’d make regular trips to the mill outlet stores in buildings that housed all the looms and old offices and had creaky wooden floors and dusty rolls of fabric everywhere. I’ve always had a strong affection for turn-of-the-century brick factory buildings. They feel full of history–and possibility.”

Prized heirloom: “My mom sewed, and my dad made a lot of furniture that we had in the house. Nothing ever looked homemade, so it was a long time before I realized that not everyone’s parents made things. I have a lot of great furniture and lamps that my dad made that I treasure, and some hats my mom made that I’ll always have. I also have my grandfather’s fiddle.”

Favorite Denyse Schmidt quilt: “I have a Works Special Edition Tangerine/Poppy on my bed that I still love. The detail fabrics I used in this series were all purchased at an old Bridgeport fabric store that was closing. I purchased as much yardage as I could before they went out of business.”

Famous fans: Journalists Anderson Cooper, Michael Lewis and Tabitha Soren, and “others I’m not at liberty to discuss!”

Denyse Schmidt Quilts, Bridgeport, Connecticut. 800-621-9017, 203-335-2719;


Second-generation New Hampshire pewterer Jon Gibson is a little obsessed with his medium. “I study the history of American and British pewter,” he explains. “I collect and restore antique pewter and pewtering tools. I have volumes of books on antique pewter. And I’m a member of the Pewter Collectors’ Club of America.”

And when it comes to creating pewter pieces with his own name on them–bowls, cups, teapots, candleholders, and more–he’s equally obsessive. “No part of anything I make is outsourced,” he explains. Finishing just one of his stunning tea sets, which involves separate castings for each part, hand finishing, and countless other labor-intensive steps, takes him at least two weeks.

Gibson works in the same 200-year-old barn where he learned pewtering from his father. He’s inspired by New England’s rich pewtering history–and by the historical feel of his own corner of the region. Every year since 2001, he’s made a commemorative holiday ornament (designed by local artist Roger Goode) celebrating a longstanding building in his hometown of Hillsborough, New Hampshire. “I like all things old,” he says.

He also enjoys the Yankee tradition of thriftiness. “I save my scraps and recycle them all,” he explains. “Pewter is made mostly from tin, but still, the materials are so expensive–so I save everything.”

Prized heirloom: Not surprisingly, it’s a pewter piece: “a quart mug by a London pewterer who worked in the 1700s, and fewer than six exist in the world. I was lucky to acquire it.”

Updated Thursday, February 17th, 2011
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