Artistic Endeavors – Quilts And Real World Issues

Quilts often seek to evoke warm, cozy feelings associated with rainbows, puppies, and holidays; but some are deliberately different. They are meant to make the viewer question assumptions and possibly feel uncomfortable.

Most recently the Threads of Resistance show has been exciting reactions, but quilters were making social and political statements in the 19th century about topics like war, temperance, and women’s suffrage. The tradition has continued through civil rights, environmental issues, AIDs, refugees, gun control and other contemporary concerns.

AIDs quilt

Women’s Christian Temperance Union Bear Paw quilt

I addressed the social commentary quilts shown at 2018’s QuiltCon earlier. Here’s my favorite one, a tribute to Heather Heyer, the activist killed during the white supremacist march in Charlottesville last August.

Juli Smith B4U

I viewed the Threads of Resistance exhibit at the 2018 Sewing Expo in Cleveland, Ohio, after reading the printed warning about the graphic nature of some of the work. The exhibit was cordoned off, with only one entry point. I took photos of ones I thought combined a message and artistry. See all the entries here.

Get Woke – Julie Parrish

Seeking Refuge – Do Palma

Patriotism – Amy Sullivan

My Body, My Rules – Sue Bleiweiss
Nevertheless, They Persisted – Do Palma

The societal/political aspects of quilts are stronger than you’d think if you went only by what’s exhibited at many quilt shows. Part of the International Quilt Study Center’s website, World Quilts: The American Story, is devoted to engagement. Thomas Knauer posted an impassioned editorial about what he calls the whitewashing of quilts’ context

I looked over my work and found almost no topical subjects. I just don’t do what I call message quilts. But maybe I should. Let me end with a quilt I think, and others agree, epitomizes the use of quilting skills in service of a message.

Freedom quilt by Jessie Telfair, 1983


Filed under Commentary, Exhibits

13 responses to “Artistic Endeavors – Quilts And Real World Issues

  1. Thanks! I appreciate a chance to see some of the exhibits

  2. The two by Do Palma are especially moving, to me at least (and the FREEDOM quilt). These message quilts may be my favorites of all quilting types. I know they can be heavy handed and not always aesthetically interesting but I like the subversion of the notion that quilting is done by plump, happy, content gals.

  3. What a wonderful array of quilts with social justice themes. I love them all, but especially the patriotism one. 🙂

  4. Excellent. I’ve shared Jessie Telfair’s quilt several times. It feels like an anthem to me. The variety of pieces you show here is reflective of the range of styles in general, I think. There is, I would hope, something to connect to anyone. But still, I know some people think “controversial” things don’t belong in quilting. It should only be about being NICE. And PRETTY.

    Message quilts — I’m motivated to make quilts with political/social messages. And I’m motivated to make other kinds of quilts, too. So far, other kinds are winning. So much to do, so little time.

    • I think I need an issue I’m so passionate about I’ll just run to my fabrics and start flinging them on the design wall to get my message out. I was amused at the warning for the content of the Threads of Resistence exhibit. Ostriches and sand come to my mind

  5. Thank you for this post and the links. I (usually) admire artists who can present their activism through their art. I guess there are many reasons some of us do not.

    • I always worry that my piece would emphasize the message over the art. Certainly I think some of the work in Threads of Resistance does just that.

      • Rebecca in SoCal

        You have picked out some artistic ones here, but I am especially struck by Do Palma’s “Seeking Refuge”. It is visually striking, it evokes that good old log cabin design, and I love the layering of images. Very nice.

      • Seeking Refuge is even better in person, as you can see the 3D effect organza layering so much more clearly.

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