The International Quilt Study Center was established in June 1997 when native Nebraskans Ardis and Robert James donated nearly 1,000 quilts and an endowment to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
During the center’s early years, the Ardis and Robert James Collection of Antique and Contemporary Quilts was stored in a renovated climate-controlled space in the Home Economics Building on UNL’s East Campus. The IQSC used these quilts—along with other additions to the collection—to create exhibitions displayed in galleries on campus and around the world.
In 2008, the IQSC moved to Quilt House, a 37,000-square-foot building with three exhibition galleries and state-of-the-art textiles storage. The museum was built using private funding received through the University of Nebraska Foundation, including a lead gift from the James family. More than 130 quilt guilds and quilt organizations in three other countries provided gifts for the building's construction.
Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York, with Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture of Omaha, were selected out of more than 120 firms to design the building. The design is a metaphor for quilts—the glass windows represent the front of a quilt, the galleries are the batting and the offices make up the back of a quilt. The Reception Hall is shaped like the eye of a needle. Quilt House received LEED Silver Rating for its environmentally sustainable building in April 2009.
In 2013, the IQSCM received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. This is the highest national recognition a museum can receive.
The International Quilt Study Center & Museum at Quilt House opened a 13,000-square-foot expansion in June 2015. The new addition doubled the museum’s gallery and storage space. The expansion was made possible by a gift from the Robert and Ardis James Foundation as part of the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Campaign for Nebraska.
Quilt House was featured on HuskerVision's "The Power of Red" video segment in 2008.