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. It just had to be 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.2 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.3,4 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.2,3 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.2,3 The object biography presented here is of a quilt designed and made by my mother, R.H. Walker.
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.1,2 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.1,2
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.2 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.
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.5
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.1 In any quilt the creator has thought about the design, colour, and materials to use to create an object of beauty.1,3 The use of geometric, colour contrasts, quilting on top all seek to create the aesthetics of the quilt.1,3 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.
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).
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).
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.
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. 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.
- 4. Edelson, 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.
- 5. Sielert, Sue. ‘Quilt Blocks.’ Emporia State University. Accessed August 8, 2016. http://www.emporia.edu/cgps/tales/quilte~1.html.