A sample quilt from Jamie Leigh's Study on Southern Quilts.
Ever go surfing on the internet, looking for something and then getting side-tracked on to something else? Well, I just found this study by Jamie Leigh who at the time was an undergraduate student in the American Studies Program, University of Virginia.
Jamie looks at quilts made by Southern women, zooming into some which were made on plantations during slavery as well as some contemporary ones. She argues that European traditions in quilting have been seen as superior to those which reflect African roots, yet she believes that both borrowed from each other's traditions, taking quilt designs into a new language that spoke about the Black/White shared experience.
Most of us abhor the burden of history we carry when we think of slavery. Yet, Jamie points out that there were cases of friendship and camaraderie between the races. She speaks of one moving example between Jane and Rebecca Bond who became very close. They enjoyed braiding each other's hair and sewed together, making both clothes and quilts for each other.
It is inevitable that people who live close to each other will become inspired by the other, even if subconsciously. We think of our society, especially in the mega-metropolis cities around the world, as diverse and multi-cultural. Yet, history has always been on the move, taking people and their stories with it. Those stories are bound to emerge from the work of our hands.
I look back on my life and think of all the ethnic traditions represented in my friends. I am of Viking stock and look like it. My best friend when I was growing up was Japanese. In College, St.Olaf, I hung around with the foreign students, all of us a bit lost in the Norwegian environment we had ended up in. We were young and we had come from Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Ghana, and other places. Oh, yes, there were even some lost "real" Norwegians! We brought our stories and when we left, we took each a piece of each other on to our next stop in life. We became threads in each other's tapestries, even if we no longer remember names or faces.
Jane's study was done over 10 years ago and has found its way into many quilt bibliographies. The study is weak in many ways as the ideas are expressed without enough support. Images do not show provenance and the layout is rather choppy, especially compared to the user friendly tools we now have for similar presentations. I found another website where Jane introduces herself and explains more about why she did her study. She went on to become a lawyer, and I'm sure that as a mature adult, she would have structured her study in a more academic manner. Yet, her love for the culture these quilts represent, the bonding between women, the stories told, do shine forth and make the study a good and lasting resource. She also has a nice bibliography for those interested in learning more about how Southern quilts have evolved.
Star of Bethlehem quilt made by a Southern white quilter.