Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cultural Analysis of Quilting - "A Place For All" Class Quilt!

My trusty assistant

This course was designed and implemented by yours truly for a cegep that I work for in the Eastern Townships in Quebec, Canada. It draws from an interdisciplinary approach including but not limited to anthropology, sociology, geography, and philosophy to show how material objects (in this case, textiles) can embody world views. Taking as a starting point the warmth, both physical and emotional, and the narrative symbolism represented by the quilt, the class explored the world views of the many different cultures that have or had some form of quilting as an element of their material culture. Students discovered the roots of the medium as well as its functions both social and cultural. The impact of modern technologies on these sociological forms were examined. As quilts were traditionally primarily made by women, this is an ideal forum to unpick some of the interpretations of the quilting bee as a site for feminist freedom and expression. Case studies were conducted to examine two themes - commodification of culture (regarding the Gee’s Bend quilters, and quilts made by the Amish community) and quilting for activism (the AIDS quilt and the Monument quilt). Students were also given the chance to gain a practical experience of the social and cultural power of quilting by interacting with the Quilt of Belonging project which is based in Canada.

Several methods were used to create the quilt, starting of course from my students' blocks. They purchased a small kit of materials from Madame Coton Bouton with a choice of seven rainbow colours, and then got designing and planning what they would make. This was challenging, mostly because many students had never sewn before, but they were encouraged to dream big and we'd find a way to make it happen! We definitely looked to the Quilt of Belonging to start us off, as they do provide many teaching resources to help. The original quilt uses a hexagon motif, because as Esther Bryan, the brains behind the QofB, explains - the hexagon shape echoes the shape of the carbon molecule, which is the building block of life. Watch her video here for more information! It also evokes a sense of community, in that those hardest little workers, the bees, build their universe in hexagons. To achieve this, I decided that the students could wrap their final pieces of fabric around a large hexagon template, tack it in place, and then join it to other blocks, essentially English paper piecing their blocks. This worked well, but was hard to explain, and it was pretty hard for the students to trust that it would turn out ok! As the task of putting everything together became daunting, I realised it would work out better to have them prepare their fabric, and I would put them all together. Yes, I'm still alive!

Over the course of the summer, I assembled the quilt. As it was pretty bulky, I decided to do a form of kantha stitching to quilt it. I couldn't use a hoop as many of the blocks had paper, glue or other fragile elements on them. Fair word of warning, if I did this again, I would not allow hot glue, especially for sticking on buttons. It was really a huge challenge to get some students over the mental block of sewing with a needle and thread, and while I made sure that each and every one did some sewing on their block, I wish I had pushed the "gluers" further, as I'm not sure how well those blocks will hold up over time. I do believe that the instructions for making a panel for many other activist quilts such as the AIDS quilt do specifically request that no glue be used, and I would do that next time.

I'm excited to display the quilt for my patient students, and this is one thing I have done that every student participated well in, regardless of ability. It seemed very freeing and relaxing to them. It was balm for me to survey little groups of heads bent over their work, totally absorbed. So often my students are stressed, exhausted, disinterested and completely focused on their phones, so this made a nice change for me too. I hope they enjoyed it, I did get positive feedback from many of them.

As there are so many resources generously provided by the Quilt of Belonging, it was easy to build a lesson plan. I would also like to recommend a book lent to me by a colleague called Making is Connecting by David Gauntlett which gave me some amazing ideas and confidence that what I was planning was actually a "thing!" I would recommend anyone give this kind of idea a try in the classroom! I loved it.

About My Students

Each block was completed by my class of students at Champlain College Lennoxville located in Quebec, Canada. A Place For All was part of their final project for a course titled Cultural Analysis of Quilting in the Department of Humanities.

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