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Object Biography – Patchwork Quilt

Megan

I have talked a number of times about the Diploma of Family History I am doing through the University of Tasmania.  One of the units I did was Place, Image, Object which discussed the idea of the meanings behind each of these for a genealogist.  The major assignment for this unit was to create an object biography that outlined the life of an object.  This could be anything of significance – a vase passed down through the generations, a teddy bear, a painting – just something that was significant to your family history.   I chose to do mine on a quilt my mother made for me.  The following is the object biography I wrote.  I hope you enjoy reading about my quilt.



Object Biography: Patchwork Quilt


Quilting has been around since as early as 3400BC in Egypt, making its arrival in Europe late in the 11th Century, with its true prominence in Europe being the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.1,2  However, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is when it became prominent as a practical item for keeping people warm.3  Historically patchwork quilts were made to provide warmth but also allowed women to show their creative sides, with needlework often being the only artistic outlet that women had and quilting enabled them to show this creativity through the design of their quilts.6,7  Over the years quilts became not only a way to keep the family warm but also a way to show traditions and the creativity of women.8,9  The object biography presented here is of a quilt designed and made by my mother, R.H. Walker.


Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 1. Patchwork Quilt by R.H. Walker, 1983.

Historically quilting utilised scraps of materials from the making of clothes to create an object that provided warmth whilst providing an opportunity for women to come together and socialise whilst undertaking their craft, a gathering known as a quilting bee.10,11  More recently, quilting has made a resurgence with many women deciding to start up this pastime as a hobby, both for companionship and to show off their artistic skills, as the art world now accepts that quilts are a unique art form in their own right. 12,13

However, whilst there has been a resurgence in the creation of quilts they will never truly return to their use of old as they are quite expensive and time-consuming to make and are utilised more as a decoration than for practical use. 14  My mother was one of these women who saw an opportunity to showcase her creativity through making quilts.  This quilt (see figure 1) was made in 1983 by her and was the first ever quilt she made.  It was made utilising a combination of hand and machine sewing, measures 149cm x 240cm, made of material – pieces on the front to form pictures that tell a story, a backing piece of material, and wadding sewn in the middle, in pastel colours.  It cost many hours of work to make this on top of the expense of the backing piece and wadding.  No price can be put on this quilt as its real value is sentimental.


Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 2. Quilt Blocks Forming a Design, 1983.

As can be seen in Figure 1, this quilt consists of a total of 18 pictures.  Pictures 1-6, 8, 11, 14, and 17 are all filler pictures, that utilises quilt blocks which are pieced or appliquéd together to form a design.15  Figure 2 shows a close up of two of these blocks, and you can see the quilting pattern of flowers that is stitched on afterwards to hold the front, wadding, and backing together.16  In any quilt the creator has thought about the design, colour, and materials to use to create an object of beauty.17,18  The use of geometric, colour contrasts, quilting on top all seek to create the aesthetics of the quilt.19,20   The colours and the design reflect who I was as a child as my mother sought to make something with meaning to me.









The other pictures on the quilt tell a story of my life at age 11 years.  Figure 3 is a Holly Hobbie picture and Figure 4 shows flowers in a basket.  These pictures represent a dress I wore and the basket of flowers I carried for my Aunt and Uncle’s wedding when I was 10 years old.

Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 3. Holly Hobbie Square, 1983.

Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 4. Flowers in a Basket, 1983.

















A couple of pictures represent my girly stage when I loved pastels and pretty things such as butterflies and flowers (see figures 5 and 6).

Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 5. Butterfly, 1983.

Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 6. Flower, 1983.
















At 11 years old I was very musical and was quite proficient at a number of instruments.  There is a violin, flute, cornet, and recorder (see figures 7 and 8).

Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 7. Violin, 1983.

Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 8. Flute, Cornet, Recorder, 1983.














The following two figures depict two houses but it is in the quilting over the top of the pictures that bring the true meaning of these blocks.  If you look closely at the first house (see figure 9) you can see it has the number 11 quilted on the olive green door.  This represents my age when this quilt was created.  The second house (see figure 10) has the number 7 quilted on it on the yellow patch between the two olive green squares.  This was the house number of the house we were living in at the time – 7 Killarney Street, Yeronga.

Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 9. House Number 11, 1983.

Object Biography, Family History Quilt, Patchwork Quilt

Fig. 10. House Number 7, 1983.













Unfortunately, my quilt has some stains on it (see figure 9), which can be seen on close inspection of the photos, as I used it as a quilt when I was a child and my care of it was not so great.  As a child and teenager, I used this quilt as a decorative bedspread and to provide additional warmth on top of other more modern blankets.  In more recent years it has been relegated to the blanket box.  Its significance as an heirloom and part of my family history has really only come to me as an adult as it invokes memories of my childhood – a snapshot of a point in my life being 11 years old.

This quilt means a lot to me as it shows my mother cares about me as she took time and thought to develop an object that would have meaning for me, although it does not have meaning to anyone else, except my children.  It tells a story that only my mother, father, brother and I can decipher, so unless I pass on the history it will lose its context.   It has been sitting in a blanket box for many years but I am inspired by bringing it out to discuss it to find somewhere more prominent for it to live and be displayed.



Do you own a quilt or other object that holds some special significance to you?  Please comment below and tell me about this special item. I would love to hear about it.



  1. Johnson, Julie. “History of Quilting.” Emporia State University. Accessed August 8, 2016. http://www.emporia.edu/cgps/tales/quilte~1.html.
  2. Hedges, Elaine. “Quilts and Women’s Culture.” Radical Teacher no. 100 (Fall, 2014): 10-14,172.doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5195/rt.2014.148. http://ezproxy.utas.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1616525334?accountid=14245.
  3. Hedges, “Quilts and Women’s Culture,” 172
  4. Sohan, Vanessa Kraemer. “But a Quilt is More: Recontextualizing the Discourse(s) of the Gee’s Bend Quilts.” College English 77, no. 4 (03, 2015): 294-316. http://ezproxy.utas.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1661113073?accountid=14245.[/note],4Edelson, Carol. “Quilting: A History.” Off Our Backs 3, no.8 (1973): 13-14. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25783579.[/note]  As the mass manufacturing of blankets took off the need for quilts became less, however in recent years there has been a revival in quilting as a form of artistic expression and it is now truly embraced as an art form in its own right.5Hedges, “Quilts and Women’s Culture,” 172
  5. Sohan, “But a Quilt is More,” 294-316
  6. Sohan, “But a Quilt is More,” 294-316
  7. Hedges, “Quilts and Women’s Culture,” 172
  8. Johnson, “History of Quilting.”
  9. Hedges, “Quilts and Women’s Culture,” 172.
  10. Edelson, “Quilting: A History,” 13-14.
  11. Johnson, “History of Quilting.”
  12. Edelson, “Quilting: A History,” 13-14.
  13. Sielert, Sue. “Quilt Blocks.” Emporia State University. Accessed August 8, 2016. http://www.emporia.edu/cgps/tales/quilte~1.html.
  14. Johnson, “History of Quilting.”
  15. Sohan, “But a Quilt is More,” 294-316.
  16. Hedges, “Quilts and Women’s Culture,” 172.
  17. Sohan, “But a Quilt is More,” 294-316.
  18. Hedges, “Quilts and Women’s Culture,” 172.
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10 Comments

  1. Debbie
    DebbieReply
    November 17, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    Wow, how lucky you are to have such a meaningful piece of art, your mother did a beautiful job with it! In my opinion, the stains are not a bad thing… they show that you loved your quilt, and you actually used it, instead of putting it up on a shelf. It only adds to the history of it. 🙂

    • Megan
      November 18, 2017 at 7:05 pm

      Thank you Debbie. I agree it does give it the loved looked but it seems a pity it is marked. I need to find somewhere to display it now as it is in a blanket box now. A single bed quilt doesn’t quite fit on a queen bed! Maybe when I sort out my spare room I should put it on the bed in there because you are right it should be displayed and not hidden away!

  2. Matt's Mom
    Matt's MomReply
    November 17, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    I love making quilts and when I recently moved I left my good sewing machine behind. I had not sewn in so long, that I figured I would give it to someone who could use it. Now I have a quilt that my mom started. She has passed away, and I want to finish it to give to my dad as a gift. So now, I am back in the market for a sewing machine. Part of it will be hand stitched, but I don’t know why on earth I got rid of my machine. I think quilts are definitely something that is part of the family history. I have a few hanging on my walls that my mom made. Now that she is gone, they are even more special to me.

    • Megan
      MeganReply
      November 18, 2017 at 9:21 am

      I’m glad my story resonated with you.  Sorry to hear about your mum but it is wonderful that she left such a wonderful reminder of her for you.  I’m jealous of people who can sew – unfortunately I didn’t get that gene, although my daughter is really good at quilting.  At least having to get a new sewing machine you can get a much newer model than your previous one!   I think it’s lovely that you want to finish the one your mum started to give to your dad.  I am sure he will love it for everything it represents.  

      Regards,

      Megan

  3. Andrew G
    Andrew GReply
    November 18, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    I appreciate the unique artistic framework that these designs capture with the imagination of women that have a sense of pride in their genealogy. This goes to show that a finer our candy loss though. So glad that person like you are picking up the genealogy for preservation. I remember my mother doing something similar to that as well

    • Megan
      MeganReply
      November 20, 2017 at 12:22 am

      Hi Andrew

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my quilt.   My mum has made many more quilts since this first one but this one is very special to me.  It is amazing that you can have a quilt that tells such a story!  Good on your mum for doing similar things.  I hope you appreciate these now and take care of them for future generations.

      Regards,

      Megan

  4. Sarah Gaddes
    January 9, 2018 at 1:20 am

    What a beautiful quilt! Your mother was truly a talented woman. I’m amazed at how she make a quilt, outlining your childhood. The designs are so intricate. My grandmother used to quilt before she got cancer. I always loved looking at all the different designs on them. Thank you for sharing!

    • Megan
      January 9, 2018 at 8:58 am

      Hi Sarah

      I am so glad you enjoyed reading about this very special quilt. Mum still quilts and has made some lovely pieces over the years. She even taught my daughter to quilt from 11 years of age as she is very arty. My daughter even won first prize in a quilting competition last year for juniors! Do you still have a quilt of your grandmother’s? They are such a special keepsake.

      Regards,
      Megan

  5. Penelope
    PenelopeReply
    January 10, 2018 at 1:35 am

    What a fascinating object that tells your story! I never really thought about the social and artistic value of quilts but they make perfect sense as mediums to tell stories, and use scraps of material in a productive way, when material might have been scarce. I love the closeups and how many of the pictures describe parts of your life. Very special, thanks for sharing.

    • Megan
      January 10, 2018 at 6:56 am

      Hi Penelope

      It is amazing that a quilt can tell a story! We often think the only mediums to tell a story is the written word or audio recordings yet in our homes, we have objects that have a story behind them. Sentimental ornaments, a teddy bear all ratty and tatty that you just can’t part with – our lives are made up of stories. I want to write some more biographies on things that matter to me but this quilt my mum made was the obvious first choice.

      Regards,
      Megan

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