Barbara Brackman: Bringing the Past into the Present

Barbara Brackman is known for looking back in time. A preeminent quilt historian and designer of historically influenced fabrics, there’s no doubt she gains inspiration from days gone by.
But Barbara doesn’t need to look too far back to remember what inspired her love of textiles. This 1950 photo of her grandparents, William and Anna McNally, and their 13 children (including Barbara’s mother Cecelia, third from left) provides all the reminder she needs. “I had the most beautiful aunts and I thought they were the essence of glamour,” says Barbara. “That’s where I got my love of fabric.”
Barbara studied art and special education in college, and began quilting as a stress-relieving hobby. She collected antique fabric and quilts and was intrigued with learning how to value and date them. At the time, few reproduction fabrics were available and she and Terry Clothier Thompson, who shared a studio, overdyed new fabric to get the antique look they loved. Moda liked the look too, and since then Barbara’s produced more than 20 lines of fabric.
“I design historical fabric because I understand it so well,” says Barbara. “I have hundreds of fabrics I use for inspiration.”
She’s also a voracious reader, immersing herself in histories and historical novels to better understand the culture of a particular time period. “I read and read until I can answer questions like ‘How would a woman think in the 1820s?’ ‘What would her religious and political feelings be?’” she says. “My reading often suggests themes for my fabric.”
Barbara admits that while she’s entranced by the past, there are things about current life she enjoys. One of them is Photoshop, which she used to enhance this photo of herself with her dog, Dorothy Barker. Even using modern technology, her resulting illustration is a tip of the voluminous hat to John Singer Sargent, who painted at the turn of the 20th century.
With her newest line of fabric, Civil War Reunion, Barbara looks to the past once more. “The focus of the fabric isn’t the war,” she says, noting that 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. “This line talks about the reunion of the States after the war. The country was able to get back together, and that’s what I think is so interesting.”

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