Although I spent a good bit of time in the vendor's area of the Chicago show, I was pretty happy with my relative restraint. I had picked up a few fat quarters and found this large, color-drenched basket from Ghana but otherwise spent my time looking instead of purchasing. Nearing the far end of the displays, I decided to skip the last few aisles and return to the exhibits area before calling it a day. I cut back through a cross-aisle and caught sight of a beautiful outside wall hung with multiple, colorful, mid-20th century quilts. At least, that's my recollection. Because when I came around the corner, I never looked back. Like Alice in Wonderland, I had fallen down the rabbit hole that was John Sauls' antique quilt booth.
I was immediately drawn in by some of the quilts hung around the booth, but for a few minutes, I still had no idea what a treasure trove I had come upon.
I was leaning in to examine the gorgeous blues in this Mariners Compass when I glanced down to catch sight of a fabulous, folky sampler quilt folded on the table. It was then that John Sauls approached me...probably thinking it was time to bring out the smelling salts...and offered to hold it up so I could see it in its full glory.
Glimpsing the price tag, I knew this quilt wasn't in my future. So sure I was that no photos would be allowed in the booth, I almost didn't ask. But when I did, the answer was "Sure, go ahead!" Click, click, click. I ventured further..."I have a blog and a lot of my readers would love to see this...would you object to...?" "No, go ahead! Take all the photos you want!"
Many of John Sauls' quilts were from the '30s and '40s, enticingly stacked in numerous shelving units around the periphery of the large booth. But I was most interested in the older quilts and while he spoke with other customers, I tiptoed around with my camera, quickly snapping some selective shots, marveling at his generosity, afraid my privileges might be revoked at any time. I now see so many glimpses of wonderful quilts in my photos that I never even noticed while I was there.
Finally, I had to pull myself away. (Ha. This is called *foreshadowing*.) I approached the sales desk to thank him again and noticed displayed there a small, braided doll rug that was a complement to one I've had for years. Next to it was a small, neat penny rug. "Oh, these are wonderful!", I exclaimed. "If you like those, you've got to see the other ones I found at the same time" he said as he opened an adjacent cabinet.
He pulled out one after another, all obviously made by the same, meticulous needlewoman. The little units were cut from a firm wool felt and each mat was backed with a woven, black wool. They were all bright and in new condition, appearing quite contemporary yet obviously many decades old.
I know I am guilty of overusing the word *hyperventilate* when writing about breathtaking finds but truly, with each item he pulled out, I was closer to needing a brown paper bag. The cynical among you will think that Mr. Sauls was a good salesman and you would be right. But I think, too, that once he realized my interest in the quirky and folky, he was excited to share these pieces he obviously loved that don't hold the appeal of the average quilt show attendee.
Out he came with a folded up top and spread it on the floor just outside his booth. (Breathe in, breathe out.) I expected a large crowd to gather around but stunningly, not one person who walked by gave it any more than a glance. The green was quite faded and suffered from serious dry rot in some flying geese sections, but it was impossible not to be completely taken with this sunflower beauty. We talked some about how wonderful pieces like this are often overlooked because of condition and then he was off in another direction to pull out another top he wanted to share. I followed on his heels, telling him that my visit to his booth was definitely worth the price of admission!
Look at this berry colored background! Another top somewhat compromised by time, but just lovely.
No, I haven't!! How I'd love to have met the maker of this satin-backed blanket. The blocks were each appliquéd with wonderful, individual designs onto patches of knitted background squares that appeared to have been cut from old sweaters. They were then bordered by several rows of granny square pattern and whip-stitched together.
On this, Earth Day, I think it's fitting to point out that the maker's fringed edging is even recycled...note the khaki yarn facing the seahorse's nose and at the end of the grasshopper's "tail" is still crinkly from its unraveling!
I want thank Mr. Sauls again for letting me share these photos with you. I took a number of detail shots and have added them to my Chicago Quilt Festival Flickr album. I strongly suggest that you note his name and keep an eye open for his booth the next time you visit a large quilt or antiques show. Although he doesn't maintain a sales feature on his website, you can request to be added to his email list for notification of future show dates. He is a delightful man who is obviously passionate about antique textiles and will happily entice you with unique and wonderful examples of quilts of all styles.
It was starting to get late and I had several exhibits yet to visit before I left, so I put my sunflower quilt top into my new basket and reluctantly walked away from John Sauls' booth. I hope we cross paths again.