News / Arts & Entertainment

    Exhibit Examines Role of Quilts in US History

    Quilt-making has always been an essential part of American life and culture. A new exhibit in Washington, titled “Workt by Hand; Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts” offers a rare look at 35 historical quilts on loan from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned decorative arts collection.

    Cultural treasures

    One of the quilts given prominent display at the exhibit is a large creation decorated with an eagle and other symbolic/patriotic American images dating back to around 1830.

    Its quilter, Elizabeth Welsh, used a complicated technique called reverse appliqué where a design is cut from the top layer of the quilt to reveal the appliqué beneath. The historic pattern inspired a popular quilt kit called "American Eagle" in advance of the national Bicentennial in 1976.

    Victoria Royall Broadhead’s Tumbling Blocks quilt features an abstract design of vibrant colors and unique block patterns in silk and velvet, helping it earn top prizes in several state fairs in the 1860s.
    Victoria Royall Broadhead’s "Tumbling Blocks" quilt earned the top prize at several state fairs in the 1860s. (J. Taboh/VOA)Victoria Royall Broadhead’s "Tumbling Blocks" quilt earned the top prize at several state fairs in the 1860s. (J. Taboh/VOA)
    ​They are among 35 historic quilts now on display at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington. 

    Associate curator Virginia Treanor said the exhibit provides an opportunity to see a rare collection of “gorgeous quilts,” and examine how quilts have been viewed and perceived by Americans over the past 150 years.”

    “We know that quilting traditions exist all over the world,” she said. “But in American culture and American history, quilts have really become a symbol of Americana…and that is in part what this exhibition looks at.”

    Women quilted, said Treanor, for a number of reasons.

    “Learning needlework for much of American history was an absolute necessity for women,” she said. “You had to learn how to use a needle and thread, you had to know how to make clothes, how to stitch bedclothes…so it was really a large part of the education for girls and women for a large part of American history.”

    But for many women, quilt-making was also an enjoyable activity and an essential form of artistic expression.

    Crazy quilts

    While some quilts in the exhibit were made from a single piece of cloth, others were assembled from an assortment of small, irregular pieces of fabric. Referred to as Crazy quilts, the process became popular in the late nineteenth century as luxury fabrics became more accessible.

    Quilts assembled from small, irregular pieces of fabric are called "Crazy" quilts. This one, by Mary Stinson, was created around 1880. (J. Taboh/VOA)Quilts assembled from small, irregular pieces of fabric are called "Crazy" quilts. This one, by Mary Stinson, was created around 1880. (J. Taboh/VOA)
    x
    Quilts assembled from small, irregular pieces of fabric are called "Crazy" quilts. This one, by Mary Stinson, was created around 1880. (J. Taboh/VOA)
    Quilts assembled from small, irregular pieces of fabric are called "Crazy" quilts. This one, by Mary Stinson, was created around 1880. (J. Taboh/VOA)
    A good example is Mary Stinson’s exquisitely embroidered Crazy quilt, which was sewn around 1880.

    “When you look at the detail in that quilt it is just amazing to think that one woman was responsible for all that detailed work,” said Treanor. “And her pride in her craft really comes out in that quilt.”

    Some quilts were made by a single seamstress, while others were the result of a collective effort.

    In the charming and intricate 1840 Pictorial quilt, for example, each quilter has embroidered her initials into the square she worked on, reflecting her individual skills and interests. One square features a woman’s silhouette; another depicts a heart, while another square features a brown horse centered against a golden background.

    Political statement

    And since women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1920, many expressed their political views through the designs they chose for their quilts.
    Quilts were often a means of political expression. This 1830's quilt depicts the first seven US presidents up through Andrew Jackson. (J. Taboh/VOA)Quilts were often a means of political expression. This 1830's quilt depicts the first seven US presidents up through Andrew Jackson. (J. Taboh/VOA)
    A whole-cloth quilt from the 1830s for example, depicts portraits of the first seven U.S. presidents up through Andrew Jackson.

    The quilter was most likely a supporter of Andrew Jackson, based on the visual evidence of Jackson’s image being given precedence over his forerunners by being enclosed in a medallion.

    Another purpose of the exhibit said Treanor, is to dispel common myths associated with quilts and the women who made them.

    “One of the more popular myths is that early colonial women were patching together quilts from scraps of clothing and other materials to stay warm in the winters, and this really was not the case,” she said. “The quilts that we have today from this earlier period really demonstrate that women who did make quilts were from a very, very high social class because they had to be able afford the material.”

    Material, at that point, was imported, usually from England, so it was expensive. The women also had to have the time to complete the quilts.

    Quilts as art

    The 1970s was a pivotal turning point in the history of quilts which, for the first time, were displayed in museums to be appreciated and recognized as art.

    “A lot of people were very happy about that because finally they felt like quilts were getting the credit they deserved as artworks in their own right,” said Treanor.

    The quilt revival of the 1970s continues to this day. More than 20 million quilters in America have turned this traditional craft into a multi-million-dollar industry.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    New in Music Alley

    Border Crossings: A Great Big Worldi
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    April 27, 2016 12:30 PM
    Duo Ian Axel and Chad King who are better known as "A Great Big World" released their sophomore CD in 2015, "When the Morning Comes" and they join Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from the new CD and also their biggest hit, "Say Something."

    Duo Ian Axel and Chad King who are better known as "A Great Big World" released their sophomore CD in 2015, "When the Morning Comes" and they join Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from the new CD and also their biggest hit, "Say Something."