NYFS logo    tagline
 Pinto Guira making guiramaking a mandalaplaying mandolin

SS2016cvr-180Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society.

Dedicated to publishing the content of folklore in the words and images
of its creators and practitioners!

Support the New York Folklore Society


Voices logo

Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore features articles, stories, interviews, reminiscences, essays, folk poetry and music, photographs and artwork from people in all parts of New York State. Voices is the Society’s membership magazine. The magazine also publishes peer-reviewed, research-based articles, written in an accessible style, on topics related to traditional art and life, including ethnic culture. Join NYFS today to receive this new membership magazine!

Voices features articles, stories, interviews, reminiscences, essays, folk poetry and music, photographs, and artwork drawn from people in all parts of New York State, folklorists and non-folklorists alike. The magazine also publishes peer-reviewed, research-based articles, written in an accessible style, on topics related to traditional art and life, including ethnic culture. Informative columns on subjects such as legal issues, photography, sound and video recording, archiving, ethics, and the nature of traditional art and life appear on a regular basis.
Look inside ⇓
VOICES, Vol. 42, Fall–Winter 2016


What always strikes me about Voices is its clarity and openness, both in design and content. It’s inviting, lively, and readable and has plenty of variety. It presents artists and communities with respect and sensitivity, yet one learns too about what folklorists do and who they are. Voices gives a picture of New York State and its people that cannot be found elsewhere.
Anna Lomax Wood, Director, Association for Cultural Equity

LISTEN to New York Folklore Society’s executive director, Ellen McHale interviewed by Steve Black for his radio show, “Periodical Radio,” about Voices.
Download MP3

⇐LOOK INSIDE back issues of Voices

From the Fall–Winter 2016 issue of Voices:

Thirty years ago I began my first consultant job as a folklorist in upstate New York.

Crandall Library wanted to expand their budding Folk Arts Program and agreed with the folks at the New York State Council on the Arts that a young folklorist working and studying in Washington, DC, could breathe new life into their program.

I was to conduct a Folk Arts Survey of Warren County, New York. The emphasis was on finding “folk arts” and those “folk artists” that could be a part of a festival or workshop series. My job was to inspire the folks at Crandall with the wealth of folk art in their own backyard and the possibilities of future programming.

Warren County is where the Hudson River rises into the Adirondack foothills. A place of hardscrabble farms, logging and wood lots, hunting and fishing, and 150 years worth of tourism. My journey that summer became more ethnographic in approach, searching for those activities, splashes of creativity, and their practitioners that helped define the region. It was about letting the region and its people speak for themselves, and taking the time to listen.

That summer, I first encountered the tied quilts of the Johnsburg United Methodist Women (UMW). Not overly structured in design, these tied quilts were made of lots of little scrap pieces of material, somehow coming together into a colorful whole. This fun-loving group of women raised money with church suppers and craft sales at locally affordable prices, proudly pointing out the “Ladies Aid Society” stained glass window, symbolizing generations of hard work in support of their small country church.

For the next several years, Johnsburg UMW worked closely with Crandall Library’s Folk Arts Project. We co-hosted an annual quilt and needlework show to document local textiles, and they provided a sampler tied quilt for our growing archive of folk culture. They also helped us experiment with ways to present local traditions to a general audience by participating in festivals, children’s workshops, and other activities.

I remembered being questioned by colleagues about the use of the label “tied quilt” rather than “comforter” and even about the validity of calling these quilts “folk art,” given the use of sewing machines rather than handwork.

I learned to rely on the wisdom of these women, who patiently told me, “Of course we all use sewing machines to make tied quilts—it makes the work go quicker.” One proudly showed me her Singer sewing machine, the same machine her grandmother used to make quilts at the end of the 19th century.

Looking back to that summer 30 years ago, I was the one to be inspired. I learned not to be limited by my own preconceived constructs, but to listen and to learn from the folk themselves.

Todd DeGarmo
Voices Acquisitions Editor
Founding Director of the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library

Program text from “An Adirondack Quilt Show: A Celebration of the Tied Tradition,”Wevertown Community Hall, Saturday, August 13, 1988, 10–4 p.m. Rain or Shine.

Tied quilts have a long history in the Adirondack North Country. For generations, they have been used as bedcovers at home and in the lumber camp, placed in hope chests by prospective brides, given to neighbors in need, and sold to raise money for the local church.

Quilts are commonly three layers: the backing, batting, and top. The backing is often simple, not given much attention, since it is the underside of the quilt. The batting is the interlining, once only made of cotton or wool (though sometimes an old blanket was used). Bats are now also made of synthetic fibers, and said by some to make quilt care easier. The top is the decorative side of the quilt. Pieces of material are sown together into blocks, these blocks then used to form the overall design.

Tying and quilting are two different ways to fasten the three layers of a quilt. North Country families often practiced both techniques, but relied on tying for the enormous task of making their own bedcovers. In the tying process, spaced threads are passed through the layers of the quilt and tied into knots. Tying is quicker than quilting and allows a thicker batting to be used for a warmer cover.

A tradition of “waste not, want not” has influenced the choice of materials used in tied quilts. Scraps are commonly salvaged from family sewing projects. Other materials have included leftover scraps from making shirttails at a local factory, cloth grain bags that came in an assortment of prints and patterns, and even unworn portions of wool jackets and pants. New material, when used, is often bought on sale or donated.

Such scraps are preferred by many of the area’s longtime tied quilters. They like the effect of combining materials of many different colors and patterns, and say that the more little pieces you have, the better the variety, and the faster the top comes together.

Many area women learned to make tied quilts from older relatives. Pauline Waddell, who has tied quilts all her life, recalls learning the skill at home:

“I started in while I was a teenager or maybe a little bit younger, working on these quilts at night with my mother. We pieced them by hand. I guess that would be seen as kind of tame to teenagers now, spending your evening, piecing quilts. But I did. Long winter evenings. That’s the way we spent our time.”

Others have learned within quilting groups. Some of the most common in this area are the United Methodist Women organizations. Located in Johnsburg, North Creek, North River, Wevertown, and Porter Corners, these groups help to support their churches while keeping alive the tradition of tied quilts.

These quilts have been used and enjoyed, not tucked away. Tops made a generation or more ago are given backing and batting, and are tied by the new generation. In some, colors are faded and materials are worn from constant use. Sometimes patches are added where the material has worn clear through. These are quilts used and loved by the present owners, to be passed on with pride to the new.

—Todd DeGarmo

The taxpayers are hollering, and the state’s contribution to this wonderful little magazine has been drastically cut. Those of us who read it all the way through have to all chip in.
—Pete Seeger, musician and activist, Beacon, New York

VISIT our online gallery bookstore to purchase back issues.


Meet Todd DeGarmo, Voices Acquisitions Editor
Todd DeGarmo

Todd DeGarmo is the acquisitions editor for Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore, leading an editorial team which includes Ellen McHale as executive editor, Patricia Mason as copy editor, and Laurie Longfield as Voices’ manager. Todd took over this editorship from Dr. Eileen Condon who served as acquisitions editor from 2007–2012.

Todd is the founding director of the Center for Folklife, History and Cultural Programs at the Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, NY. Todd is a former board member and past president of the New York Folklore Society. He brings a wealth of knowledge and prior experience to the position of acquisitions editor, including a knowledge of Japanese culture, Adirondack studies, tourism, and architectural studies.

Send Your Story to Voices!
Did you know that Voices publishes creative writing, including creative fiction (such as short stories), creative nonfiction (such as memoirs and life/work stories), and poetry? We also publish artistic and ethnographic photography and artwork, in addition to research-based articles on New York State folk arts and artists. If you are one of New York’s many traditional artists or working in a traditional occupation—including fishing, boat building, traditional healing, instrument making, firefighting, and nursing, to name a few—please consider sharing your life or work story with the readers of Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore. Check out our new column heading First Person, which spotlights folk artists and folk arts workers, giving creative people space in each issue to share their life stories in their own words. First Person allows people to share the reasons they have spent a lifetime supporting or recreating New York’s diverse traditions, passing them down through generations—whether it’s gardening, carving, roots music, village dancing, egg decorating, weaving, quilting, fiddling, traditional singing, basketry, ethnic foodways, traditional calligraphy, or home altar building. Email the acquisitions editor of Voices, at nyfs@nyfolklore.org.

Check our submission guidelines for authors.

Send your letter to the editor here

Folklorists are writers. We write every day: monographs and scholarly articles, field notes, festival and event brochures, exhibit texts, grant applications, final reports, press releases, proposals. In fact, I would say that time spent writing is more than fifty percent of any folklorist’s annual cycle of work. The essentials of folklore—the ethnographic material—are fundamental to a great story. As any fieldworker can attest, entering into the personal experience of another individual is expansive and illuminating. The everyday becomes novel when viewed from the viewpoint of the uninitiated. The job of the folklorist is to translate that experience to those who may not get the opportunity to go through it themselves and to help the reader to find meaning in the experience.
Ellen McHale, PhD, Executive Director, NYFS

What is Folklife?
The everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass on to the next generation:

The traditional songs we sing, listen and dance to

Fairy tales, stories, ghost tales and personal histories

Riddles, proverbs, figures of speech, jokes and special ways of speaking

Our childhood games and rhymes

The way we celebrate life
  – from birthing our babies to honoring our dead

The entire range of our personal and collective beliefs
  – religious, medical, magical, and social

Our handed-down recipes and everyday mealtime traditions

The way we decorate our world
  – from patchwork patterns on our quilts to plastic flamingoes in our yards, to tattoos on our bodies

The crafts we create by hand
  – crocheted afghans, wooden spoons, cane bottoms on chairs

Patterns and traditions of work
  – from factory to office cubicle

The many creative ways we express ourselves as members of our family, our community, our geographical region, our ethnic group, our religious congregation, or our occupational group

Folklife is part of everyone’s life. It is as constant as a ballad, as changeable as fashion trends. It is as intimate as a lullaby, and as public as a parade.

In the end ... we are all folk.
American Folklife Center
Library of Congress, Washington, DC

NEW YORK FOLKLORE SOCIETY ♦ 129 Jay Street ♦ Schenectady, NY 12305 ♦ 518.346.7008 ♦ Fax 518.346.6617 ♦ nyfs@nyfolklore.org