INTRODUCTION - WHY SOUTHERN QUILTING?

An Introduction and Guide to this Web site



My grandmother makes the quilts I use to cover my bed. And while I love the quilts, I have never really understood them to be anything more than bed covers which happen to match the decor of my room. In the winter of 1996 I was tired of the winter weather, burnt-out out with studying and rowing, and needed to do something real that I could see materialize that was not for a class or for an upcoming race. I looked at the quilt on my bed and decided to call my grandmother. With her advice I headed to the fabric store to pick out fabric for my pattern. The choices were overwhelming and I wondered where all the different patterns originated and how it was exactly that American quilting became, and remains, such an important, but often unrecognized, part of American textile, folk-art, popular, and literary culture. The following is a brief overview of my research and presentation of Southern Quilting.

Since colonization of North America, African and European traditions have influenced one another in all aspects of culture. Historically, and especially on slave plantations, most African folk-tradition has been held as a sub-standard and the European tradition as ideal. Yet with the art and practice of quilting, there seems to be an integration of the two traditions early on in America. Quilting has brought both African and European American women and their values together in a way, perhaps, like no other folk-art tradition. What follows is a detailed look at the traditional backgrounds and origins of both African and European Quilting. In this segment of the site, while the details of both traditions are made distinct, what becomes quickly apparent are the similar motives and purpose for quilts. Southern women, with the exception of the Amish traditions of the North, really pioneered and rejuvenated this tradition of "integrated" folk-art. Most of our contemporary quilting traditions stem from the mix of cultures in Southern America that, although at different ends of the social and economic scale, were achieving a similar goal with quilting. Both African and European Americans were quilting in order to provide warm blankets for their families, to record family history, to represent personal and religious journeys and beliefs, to spend time together as women, and to be creative as individuals in a form that gave them recognition, status, and often material reward in a commercial sphere often occupied only by men. The second major segment of the site contains seven biographies of quilters both past and present. Here it becomes clear that, while quilting is certainly an individual process and subject to personal interpretation and heritage, it is also a cultural process that has been borrowed and exchanged throughout both African and European tradition. Many of the women quilters recall that the patterns and traditions they use are often repeated not for high value or representation, but for the very fact that they saw their grandmother, or mother, or cousin, or neighbor, or plantation owner's wife create the same pattern. Thus, although American quilting comes from different traditions, the very nature of its individual creation, allows for its original values to loose importance as quilting traditions overlapped and provided a new American value. This point, about the creation of an American value of quilting as its own integrated tradition, can be viewed in the third segment of the site. This segment is an archive of American literary works that depend upon, or rely on, the role of American quilting as the basis for the work. Although perspective changes on the very nature of American quilting with each author, each work represents the unique, integrated tradition of American women over the course of their history. After reviewing the project, please feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions you may have.

Jamie Leigh Undergraduate Student, American Studies Program, University of Virginia

jkl5c@virginia.edu



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