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Saturday, February 19, 2011

AFRICAN-AMERICAN INFLUENCED QUILT

 African-American influenced quilt
Sometimes we run into something that speaks to us. This was the case about six months ago as I haunted my favorite second-hand store.  Draped over a chair, rather rumpled, was a quilt that I could see was hand-tied. I am not a big fan of hand-tied quilts but I could not resist the pleasure of opening it up to have a look. 


Now I knew what I was looking at  (a quilt) but I really wasn't seeing it. My gut was to buy it. And I did. 


Embroidery stitches with hands

Ever so often I would look at it asking myself questions about its configurations. I knew that it was made in the era of about 1920s to 1950s from the wool and cotton material and the hand-tying. I knew that is was all hand stitched. I knew that it had strips sewn together. But what really got me was the pattern and the hands embroidered on some of the squares. 

Then one day I opened it up and I really saw it. Its asymmetrical patterns jumped out at me. Research told me it was an African-American influenced quilt.


Asymmetrical zig-zag stitching and vertical strips

Since African-Americans first arrived on our shores they brought along their  ancestral textile designs and religious symbols that were soon incorporated into American quilts that they made for themselves  on the plantations. 


The symbols once had meanings that told stories  -- but over  successive generations of  family quilters they became lost. But, the symbols became traditional to future  family quilt makers  despite the missing stories. 


Hands or "mojos"
The tell-tale signs that told me this quilt was African American were: improvisation, multiple patterning, asymmetrical patterning, sewn strips, and symbols. 

According to Maude Southwell Wahlman author of Signs and Symbols: African Images in African-American Quilts, the symbols of red squares or hands are called "mojos" that represent protective charms in the African Kongo culture. So the hands on my quilt were protective charms but in which way? I guess that is part of the story that has been lost. 

I am thrilled to have this quilt as it represents cultural ways that have survived for generations. It also tells me that culturally, past customs and traditions are probably present in all of us. 

I recommend the following resources if you are interested in this subject. Ms Wahlman has done extensive research in this area and has compiled a collection of quilts and oral histories on African American quilts. 


RESOURCES:

Online article

Book 
Maude Southwell Wahlman

35 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh, what a beautiful quilt! I love the hands on it and found your research very informative. I collect tied tack quilts that look just like your quilt (without the hands) and are made by using old fabric scraps, typically wool.

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  2. What a beautiful find!!!! It really is a work of art! I am so green with envy! Enjoy!

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  3. What a beautiful and interesting quilt Barbara. I've never seen one like this before. It's really a treasure; so glad you bought it. I'm gonna check out the links and read up on these quilts, it's quite interesting.

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  4. You were lucky to find this quilt-- and it was lucky you found it, someone else might not have treasured and understood it and few people go to the trouble of doing research as you do. I would suggest the letters embroidered on the hands are initials of people who either worked on it or who the maker loved. I see that at least one hand is wearing a wedding ring and had no initials this was surely meaningful to the maker also with a story we can never know. Lovely discovery!

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  5. This quilt reminds me of the Gee's Bend quilts. What a great find and so glad you followed your gut and bought it.

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  6. June -- I do agree with you that the hands could signify people that worked on the quilt or were loved by the maker. There are a couple of small hands that probably belonged to children. Another possibility is that it could be a memorial quilt? Fun to speculate. Thanks for the good comment -- barbara

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  7. Mama-Bug -- Knowledge of African quilts have been brought to the forefront of quilt research and exhibits within the last few decades. You are probably familiar with the Gee Bend quilts. -- barbara

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  8. Chandler Arts -- Thanks for stopping by and leaving a nice comment -- barbara

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  9. Kay -- in my research of the quilt I did find many that claimed African American quilts are folk art -- this being in sync with you calling it art. Thanks -- barbara

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  10. Darcy -- May I suggest that you read Signs and Symbols listed in my resources. You might discover that you have an African-American quilt in your collection. The book lists all the earmarks of how to identify an A-A quilt. Very interesting -- barbara

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  11. Farmchick -- Yes, the Gee Bend quilts are great examples of the beauty of African American quilts. They certainly are American treasures. -- barbara

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  12. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/20/opinion/20House.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212

    Howdy! Your blog is great. I especially liked the sea glass since I grew up near LI Sound. Thought you might be interested in the link to this NY Times article today.

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  13. Anonymous -- I don't usually put comments on that are anonymous. I've has some bad experiences with them. I read your link and it was very good. Silas House is a respected writer. -- barbara

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  14. I love the quilt. I love all old hand made quilts. I would never have guessed that it was African-American.

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  15. Oh my! Yes indeed, quite beautiful. They 'speak' to me too. They always do.

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  16. Janet -- I do like quilts and also other hand-made textiles. I like any thing that is hand-made and reflects the maker. Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  17. Birdman -- Thanks for the very nice comments and glad to hear quilts speak to you too. -- barbara

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  18. Not only is that a marvellous find but so fortuitous it was waiting there for you to find :)
    I would never have guessed how much heritage and culture went into a quilt!

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  19. That's an intriguing quilt and a mystery too. It looks like child's hands and adult hands, but some have initials on them, some don't. I would bet a quilt historian would love to have a look at it.

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  20. Very nice! -- I'm a fan of the Gee's Bend quilts too.

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  21. Wow, I haven't seen one of those things in years. I never knew the history of them either. This is a real eye-opener for me. Dianne

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  22. Hi Dianne -- Thanks for the comment -- quilts have fascinating histories -- barbara

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  23. Ken Mac -- Ahh - I take it that your Mom liked quilts -- they do have a large following in the U.S. -- barbara

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  24. Vicki -- Thanks for the comment -- This might be similar to a Gees Bend however it is not of that area. I bought the quilt in Ky -- barbara

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  25. Granny Sue -- A quilt historian is a good idea. The hands can have several meanings. Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  26. Jayne -- Quilts reflect cultural regions. Australia has quilt makers that make quilts similar to African American makers. -- Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  27. What a wonderful fine. It's neat to feel a special link to the hands that made that quilt.

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  28. That's a lovely and fascinating quilt, Barbara - I'm so glad you listened to your inner voice and bought it! It's got such personality and stories to tell.

    This post reminded me of a couple of books I spied while trolling my quilting friend Jo's Amazon wish list last November for Christmas gift ideas. Thought they might interest you...

    Signs and Symbols: African Images in African-American Quilts

    Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Antebellum South

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  29. Laloofah -- thanks for the book links. I have Signs and Symbols and did have Stitched from the Soul but have since misplaced it. Both are excellent books.

    I sure thank you for thinking of me by mentioning the books. Very thoughtful. -- barbara

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  30. Barbara,

    How may I contact you for a private discussion of this quilt? I am researching others with hands on them.

    Jan

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  31. Jan -- There is only one way that you can contact me and that is for you to join my followers on the sidebar. When I see you have joined then I can email you. Your email will not be known to me only google will have it. This keeps both of our emails private. I do not publicize my email address. I am curious about your project. -- barbara

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  32. Thanks Barbara. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Jan

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  33. Barbara, my contact should be listed under your followers now. I am currently researching a group of quilts from Ohio and will be there in a few months for more work. They are quite special. Please email as soon as you can.

    Jan

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