Our popular 3-week course with Margaret Styles is back + we’ve been getting inspired by this wonderful, wide-ranging artform, which is global in reach and steeped in a history much more radical and diverse than you might think.
Quilting has long been a craft of invention and patterns in harmony together. Fabric piecing and patchwork due to fabric shortages have led to the creation of the most commonly recognised quilted shapes, still repeated today. The history of quilting is also tied up with the history of domestic work and women’s history – quilting bees were common in the 19th century as places for women to gather, sew, and talk. Susan B Anthony, key to the women’s suffrage movement in America, first publicly spoke about equal rights for women at a quilting bee.
Zak Foster works with upcycled materials to make his quilts – sometimes it’s a loved one’s favourite wardrobe pieces after they pass, as a memorial quilt, sometimes it’s just to inject play into the design. This one is called Orange Crush, and is made from the men’s shirts- you can see the yoke shapes and on his site you can even see buttonholes!
Deann Tyler on Instagram documents the history of quilts as a family and domestic skill, by photographing found quilts and telling their stories. In the civil war in America log cabin quilts became a popular way to raise money for the union, it was said because Abraham Lincoln grew up in a log cabin. They are still one of the most popular quilt block shapes in the states. We love the handmade and well loved nature of these quilts, passed down through generations as an important craft and material history.
Quilts have often been used as a medium for recording or preserving material history. An unknown maker created this quilt out of suit fabric by liberated survivors of the Dachau concentration camp, a solemn reminder which lives on.
While quilts have often been called craft in part as a way to diminish the artist merit of a woman centred medium, it is absolutely a technique with a place in the art world. Look at this stunning piece depicting Frederick Douglass, called The Storm, the Whirlwind, and the Earthquake– after a line in a speech he made in 1852. “Butler’s quilted portraits—made entirely of fabric—display a painterly use of vibrant colors [sic] and textures. The artist uses West African wax-printed textiles, kente cloth, and Dutch wax prints to connect her subjects to their African roots, each piece telling a unique story.”
An inspirational blog post about quilts wouldn’t be complete without the AIDS memorial quilt. On October 11, 1987, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was first displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It covered a space larger than a football field and included 1,920 panels. Each panel was made to memorialise someone who had died due to the AIDS epidemic, and in the years after, it was regularly added to by organisations, family members, and people from the queer community. Today, it stands at 50,000 unique panels, and has been fully digitally archived. The quilt utilises collage, photographs, applique, patchwork and more, and is a stunning display of solidarity and love for those affected by a preventable epidemic; the effects of which are still being felt by the LGBTQ+ community to this day.
Edited to Add: We had to add the Norfolk Trans Joy Community Quilt to this blog, because we were blown away by the beautiful work and story behind it. The Norfolk Trans Joy Community Quilt consists of individual squares crafted by trans, nonbinary, gender non-conforming people and trusted allies, expressing personal forms of joy relating to the trans experience. You can read more about it by purchasing the zine on Common Threads.
Lastly, quilting doesn’t have to be used just for bed toppers. Using quilted fabric has been super popular recently, like Psychic Outlaw’s upcycled quilt dresses and coats. The only limit is your imagination for this super useful and beautiful skill!