A quilt is more
Dispatch from Writing with the Seasons - February 2023
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A lot of people make quilts for your bed, or to keep you warm. But a quilt is more. It represents safekeeping, it represents beauty, and you could say it represents family history.
Mensie Lee Pettway
I was so moved by this statement. How it elevates the work of quiltmaking to a craft of love, kindness and deep cultural traditions. The lines were on the wall of ‘The New Bend,’ an exhibition that explores quilting, fabric, history, women, race and class. A showcase of contemporary textile artists inspired by Black American women quilters living in Gee’s Bend, Alabama.
The original group created quilts for family use, then later to earn income to reinvest into their community. They gathered to talk, work and sew together. Gaining strength as a collective, the women identified issues—including voting and civil rights—that mattered deeply and they would fight for.
What struck me most was how the threads of these bold, abstract, colourful textiles on display caught the light in the gallery, suggesting ways our lives interweave. Many of the pieces were created collaboratively—celebrating the tradition of the 19th and 20th century communal quilting circle. Fabrics made with and alongside other people, stories woven together and absorbed into the pieces.
I thought a great deal about fabrics I’m drawn to and those that have mattered to me in my life: a charity shop silk dress sewn by unknown hands; sequins and offcuts owned by my grandparents, tailors whose parents emigrated to the UK. A shirt my mother mended, a frayed childhood blanket. How they all hold different stories.
‘The New Bend’ is a wonderful exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, Somerset. Details here! Writing with the Seasons is brought to you by Write & Shine, a programme of morning writing events and online courses. Winter artwork by Hannah Bagshaw.
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I’ve always been fascinated by quilts and have made several myself. It takes a lot of patience, a trait that is worth nurturing. Glad you got to see some quilts that inspired you to write and thanks for sharing your thoughts.