Can you hear the voices in the stitches?

"Crazy Quilt" from the collection of the New England Quilt Museum

For centuries, women have been sitting down and quietly stitching their hopes, dreams, stories, and artistic visions into quilts, then putting them on beds and walking anonymously away. But today, quilters are voiceless no more. Quilting is a $3.6 billion industry, with 20 million adherents and a passionate cadre of fans. And thanks to exhibits like “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend,” these homey, hauntingly evocative creations have been lauded by critics as “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.”

"Shattered," a quilt by Karen Musgrave on Alzheimer's disease.

Quilts are finally beginning to get the artistic respect they deserve – thanks in large part to the efforts of The Alliance for American Quilts, a tiny powerhouse of an organization that is fanatically committed to preserving, archiving and promoting quilters and quilting online. Its most sumptuous treasure is the Quilt Index, an online database of more than 50,000 quilts from museums and state documentation projects (in a collaboration between the Alliance and Michigan State University Museum, plus MSU’s MATRIX: Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online).

"Hope" by Rosa Angulo, a prisoner in Ohio Reformatory for Women

The Quilt Index allows readers to log on and see a Tennessee quilt from 1850, then zoom in and compare it, stitch by stitch, with a quilt from Massachusetts from the 1950s. It’s like unlocking the treasures of every basement, attic, museum warehouse, and hope chest – along with the hearts of each woman (or man) who stitched these quilts together.

Richard Tims, a long distance Texas trucker, has his own stories to tell.

If every quilt is an expression of love as well as a work of art, you can honestly claim that every stitcher tells a story. So the Alliance for American Quilts has also pioneered a grassroots oral history project called Quilters’ S.O.S. (for Save our Stories) to document the living history of over 1,000 current quiltmakers. Interviews are conducted by volunteers across America (much like the Story Corps project) with noteworthy quilters and their “touchstone” quilt, and archived at the Library of Congress. Anyone can interview a quilter by downloading the protocol online and working with the Alliance staff, and the results are poignant, funny, touching and profound. Clearly, quilting is an international language that speaks from the heart and expresses itself in fabric, design, visual narrative, and the tiniest of stitches.

Leila Kazimi's quilt honors her Palestinian roots

Working on a slender skein of donations and foundation grants, the Alliance makes the most of every gift, but a recent matching challenge grant will double every dollar given up to $30,000 until October 31. That’s a transformative pot of money for a feisty, frugal organization with a tiny staff and big ambitions.

Pam Neil's quilt tells the story of her son's deployment to Afghanistan after 9/11.

In honor of my grandmother, a gifted quilter, I’m privileged today to offer my $100 to the Alliance for American Quilts and all those anonymous women who took up their needles and sat down to create something beautiful, something timeless, something that they would be remembered by. To join me in making sure their legacy is documented, preserved and widely shared, click here!

5 thoughts on “Can you hear the voices in the stitches?

  1. Thank you Betty for giving to the Alliance for American Quilts. I am a quiltmaker and very grateful that the Alliance is here. Today as I stitch you’ll be in my thoughts–I dedicate this day of needlework to you.

  2. Pingback: What Gives? | Major Thoughts

  3. These are gorgeous, thanks so much for sharing them. My Grandmother gave me a beautiful quilt when I was born, but I love it so much (and the dog likes to dig in it) so I refuse to put it on the bed.

    anyhow, it’s a wonderful cause

    all the best

  4. Betty, thank you for this incredible invitation to the world to join the Alliance for American Quilts. I know your grandmother would be proud of the incredible impact that you are making with this project. We’re so grateful and proud to have your support!

  5. I am so thrilled with your site. I was just introduced to it yesterday and I love it. I love reading about wonderful people, groups, ideas & givingness! Thank you. I love it.

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