In her wall hanging "Wondrous Star," on the wall at left, quilter Bets Ramsey deftly interpreted the eight-pointed star design with irregular "string" piecing, rather than diamond pieces. / Photo from Tennessee State Museum

If you go

* What: "Between the Layers: Art and Story in Tennessee Quilts."

* When: Through Sunday, July 7. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday and Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday (all times Central). Highlight tours start at 2 p.m. daily.

* Where: Tennessee State Museum, 1000 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard (at Jefferson Street at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park), Nashville.

* Admission: Free.

* Phone: 1-800-407-4324.

* Online:

With their hobby so prominently featured, members of the Chattanooga Modern Quilt Guild likely would have trekked to Nashville anyway for the critically acclaimed quilt exhibition now on view at the Tennessee State Museum.

But the best part of the visit has been seeing their own creation hanging in the gallery.

"Before we were even finished, the museum contacted us and said they wanted to acquire it for the permanent collection," says Kelly Spell, immediate past president of the group. "We were stunned. Of course we said yes."

Called "A Modern Basket" and completed in 2018-19, the quilt is one of three with ties to Hamilton County that are featured in "Between the Layers: Art and Story in Tennessee Quilts." Also included are "People of the World," made by Lillian Beattie in 1979, and "Wondrous Star," a quilted wall hanging by Bets Ramsey, 1973-74.

They are among nearly 40 quilts selected from the museum's larger collection to highlight the state's quilt artistry across more than two centuries (including one from the late 1700s) and all three grand divisions (72 of 95 counties). The exhibition, the first of several shows mounted since the museum's grand opening in its new location last fall, continues through July 7.

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Before it was delivered to Nashville, the Chattanooga Modern Quilt Guild took this photo of "A Modern Basket" against a polka dot wall in downtown Chattanooga. / Photo by Kelly Spell

"It is a wonderful exhibit, stunningly put together," says Spell. "The antique quilts are mind-boggling in their detail, and the designs are really cool. It's worth the drive to go up and check it out."

"A Modern Basket" was originally intended for QuiltCon, an annual convention of the Modern Quilt Guild, an international organization. The 2019 gathering, showcasing nearly 500 quilts from around the world, was held in Nashville in February, the same month "Between the Layers" opened.

To prepare for the convention, the MQG affiliates in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis agreed that each would participate in the annual Charity Quilt Challenge. The 2019 guidelines for color scheme and theme called for purple hues and "Tiny Piecing," meaning that quilters were to use very small pieces of fabric to make a large quilt, says Spell.

For inspiration, the four state guilds chose a design from "The Quilts of Tennessee," a Bible of sorts written by Ramsey and fellow quilter/historian Merikay Waldvogel. The 1986 guide grew out of the authors' three-year survey of more than 1,500 quilts made before 1930.

"We loved the idea," Spell says. "The connection to Tennessee [as host of the international convention], the story behind the book in the first place, how Bets and Merikay did the survey."

The four members of the design team decided on a traditional basket pattern, mostly because "none of us had ever seen a modern take on a basket quilt," says Spell.

All 40 or so members of the guild donated fabric — "they brought us everything they thought would fit the color scheme," Spell says — and the team assembled fabric kits to send home with individual members to make the blocks. "Not traditional-style blocks," she explains, "put pieced sections." When those were returned, the design team assembled them into the quilt top.

To show the diversity between old and new, the museum has paired "A Modern Basket" with a vintage quilt depicting the traditional basket pattern. The vintage offering has neat, repeating rows in a checkerboard of muted red and white. The modern basket, pieced from a melange of multicolor fabric strips, splashes its big, bold form at a tilt against a deep purple background.

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Chattanooga Modern Quilt Guild members gather around "A Modern Basket," which now is part of the permanent collection at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. / Photo from Kelly Spell

Joe Pagetta, director of communications for the museum, says the Chattanooga quilters "added a touch of humor to the cheerful theme, as one giant basket falls off the quilt top at an angle."

In reviews of the show, weekly magazine Nashville Scene singled out Beattie's "bright-yellow showstopper" and used it as its cover art, Antiques and the Arts Weekly noted the collection "dazzles the eye with color and workmanship" and The New York Times praised the "absolute showpieces" so perfectly crafted that "it seems impossible for them to have been made by human hands."

Beattie, who was born in Athens, Tennessee, began quilting at age 60 after having worked professionally in Chattanooga providing care for the elderly, according to the museum. Visiting the 1939 New York World's Fair, she was disappointed that the quilts she saw included no figures and decided to design her own, using bright-colored compositions of characters from comics, history and popular culture. She was 100 years old when she made "People of the World."

Ramsey, who was born near Chattanooga, began exploring art quilting in 1972, inspired by her grandmother's quilts. A quilt-world legend, she still actively contributes both to the historical study of quilt heritage and to the quest for new possibilities within the traditional art form.

Contact Lisa Denton at or 423-757-6281.

Chattanooga quilters

The Chattanooga Modern Quilt Guild, open to all ages and levels of experience, meets at 10 a.m. the second Saturday of each month in the Adult Education Building at Christ United Methodist Church, 8645 East Brainerd Road (enter from Morris Hill Road and look for ChattMQG signs). Enter the building using the last door on the right. The group meets in the first room on the right. Visitors may attend two meetings free of charge. Membership is $35 per year (prorated). Find out more at

Here are program topics for the rest of the year:

* July 13: Visible Mending Challenge launch and program

* Aug. 10: Tricky Sewing Seams

* Sept. 14: Quilt-as-You-Go With a Modern Twist

* Oct. 12: Free-Motion Quilting on a Domestic Machine

* Nov. 9: 2020 Planning

* Dec. 14: Visible Mending Challenge reveal and holiday party