Unraveling Quilts

Native American Quilts exhibited at the Smithsonian

“Quilts functioned as both ritual and practical replacements for Plains Indians buffalo robes. Bison hides had grown scarce as herds were hunted nearly to extinction in a campaign to subdue the Plains tribes during the late 1800s.”

History of Knitting as Activism

“Sewing Circles are among the best means for agitating and keeping alive the question of anti-slavery. … A friend in a neighboring town recently said to us, Our Sewing Circle is doing finely, and contributes very much to keep up the agitation of the subject. Some one of the members generally reads an anti-slavery book or paper to the others during the meeting, and thus some who don’t get a great deal of anti-slavery at home have an opportunity of hearing it at the circle.”

Faith Ringgold at the Met

“By 1983, Ringgold had immersed herself in a new art form, story quilts, which seemed a natural progression from her painting, fabric sculpture, and performance art. With story quilts, this activist artist-concerned throughout her career with issues of feminism and race-creates a new expression that acknowledges cultural and personal history.”

Women quilt messages in Japanese POW camp

“Communication between the two camps was forbidden, so the women hit on a novel ruse. They would sew quilts and each patch, measuring about six square inches, would contain a pictorial message that only their husbands would understand. Each one was signed so that their men would know they were alive,” said Dr Archer.

Threads of Resistance: Political Arpilleras from Chile

“This style of sewing developed into an act of political subversion and a way to raise international awareness of the violence and repression suffered under the Pinochet dictatorship. Stitching and sewing to express the experience of state violence and human rights violations through the arpillera then spread to other Latin American countries, Europe and Africa. The textiles and arpilleras in this exhibition are representative of the use of scraps of material, thread and needle for expressing resistance. These arpilleras have demonstrated resistance: resistance against poverty by creating a grassroots export; resistance against the regime by telling the story of daily life under Pinochet; resistance against the very idea of resistance by making sewing an act of subversion; and resistance against the expectations of the art world by being exhibited as works of art.”

Anti-Hitler quilt in Concentration Camp

“Imprisoned by the old enemy for four years during World War Two, Major Alexis Casdagli never lost his fighting spirit up with his own cheeky form of resistance – adding the secret messages to his needlework which were never spotted by his Nazi captors.”

Pedagogies of Sewing Circles in American History

“Sewing circles provide a space for communities of women to advise, guide, and support one another through personal and professional challenges. Either a necessity or leisurely technique of hand needlework was central to most women’s lives. Whether making for survival in preindustrial times, to sell items to raise money for war or other political causes, or for pleasure, women periodically assembled in homes or churches to sew, knit, quilt – and talk. Inspired by interracial groups formed during abolition and the intergenerational group that characterized my campus circle, I theorize an emancipatory pedagogy through the living aesthetics emerging within the sewing circle.”

Knitting as Dissent: Female Resistance in America Since the Revolutionary War

“During the Civil War (1861 – 65), in the fall of 1864, Sojourner Truth, proto-feminist and Civil Rights activist, traveled to refugee camps of freed people where she demonstrated sewing, knitting, and cooking to teach people skills that might allow them to be financially independent. Victorian activist Clorinda Nichols managed to become a member of Kansas’s first state constitutional convention where she demanded expanded women’s rights—paradoxically deemed an “unwomanly” pursuit—even while she “tended strictly to her knitting” during the convention. 12 In her book No Idle Hands, Anne Macdonald hypothesized that Nichols’ predilection for this traditional feminine pastime perhaps tricked male members into “underestimating her crusade for more liberal property rights for women.”