A Meditation On Quilting

The other day I was online looking at photographs from the most recent Met Gala. For those unfamiliar, the Met Gala is an annual fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Arts Costume Institute in New York City. It has become known as an occasion where celebrities wear ostentatious outfits created by well known fashion designers.

Each year the Met Gala has a theme of dress for those attending. This year the theme was “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” Over the years designers have received criticism for not following the gala’s dress theme. Instead they just throw out whatever they want to showcase. This year was no different, with many many attendees sporting garments that had nothing to do with the In America theme.

However, one look in particular caught my eye:
This look caught my eye for a couple different reasons. First and foremost, the quilt itself looked very authentic. By authentic, I mean that it did not look like it was made by some designer of high-fashion. Rather, it looked like a quilt I might see at work from Sewing Machine Shop patrons.

My intuition was correct. After a few Google searches, I learned that the designer had actually found the quilt at a thrift store in Los Angeles. In fact, a young woman watching the Met Gala on television recognized the quilt as one made by her great-grandmother, who was an avid quilter. When great-grandmother passed, the family donated several of her quilts to Goodwill, hoping they would keep someone else warm. In a turn of fate, the quilt was picked up by the fashion designer, reworked, and found its way onto the red carpet.
I thought this was a neat story, and it really sent me down a rabbit-hole thinking about all the different facets of quilting. First, it cemented the fact that quilting is truly an art form. Just like other art forms such as painting or sculpture or film, the creation often outlives the artist who created it. However, unlike other art forms, quilts have a fundamentally utilitarian nature. People literally sleep with them for warmth– is any other art form capable of connecting on a more personal level than that? None that I am aware of, and it is in that sense that I find quilting to be extremely unique.

Another thought I had was that the quilted cape was very appropriate for the occasion. After all, the Met Gala’s theme was In America, and there is a very rich history of quilting in our country. You start with the fact that quilting in Colonial America was purely for the purpose to keep people warm. Then, over time, as waves of immigrants arrived and as people moved across the country, different styles and techniques emerged (e.g. Broderie Perse quilts, Baltimore Album quilts). Essentially, quilting evolved as the country evolved. When viewed from that lens, the history of quilting and the history of America are inextricably intertwined.

As I went deeper down the American quilting rabbit-hole, I came across a book called Hidden in Plain View. This book tells a story that truly exemplifies how the history of quilting is interwoven with the history of America: how enslaved men and women made encoded quilts and then used them to navigate their escape on the Underground Railroad. The book’s authors assert that certain quilt patterns, including a prominent one called the Charleston Code, were essential tools for escape along the Underground Railroad. Personally, I never knew anything about this before and think it is incredible. Similar to the recycled quilt cape at the Met Gala, this story about the coded Underground Railroad quilts also involves an unexpected turn of fate. Who would have thought that quilts would be used in such a way? Humans are truly ingenious, and when I hear stories like this, I can’t help but feel a deepened appreciation for the art of quilting.
The fine work on this poinsettia quilt was done with an embroidery machine, a technique known as quilting in the hoop.
An example of a Baltimore Album quilt.
These amazing quilts were made by a few of our customers.
An example of a Broderie Perse quilt.
Anyways, I know this email was a bit all over the place, but I wanted to share some interesting quilting stories with you all. We love all our quilters here at The Sewing Machine Shop, and we’re always happy to provide you with any equipment or support you need so that you can keep on creating.
Call us at (925)937-7575 for more information.
Our hours are 9AM-5PM Tuesday-Saturday
And don’t forget to tell your friends!
Sewing Machine Shop
1661 Botelho Drive, Suite 180
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
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