Introduction
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| 1 Quilts substantially contribute to health and well-being.1 The number of health-related quilts made is in the millions.2 Name an illness, medical condition, or disease and you will likely find quiltmaking associated with it. From Alzheimer’s disease, to irritable bowel syndrome, to Lou Gehrig’s disease, to Crigler-Najjar syndrome, to nearly every form of cancer, associated quilts have been made by thousands of individuals in support of personal well-being, health education, patient advocacy, memorialization of victims, and fund-raising. In addition, a long history exists of individuals and groups making quilts in response to the physical and emotional needs of those who are facing disasters or difficult times. When illness or disaster strikes, quilts can play a key role in both individual and public healing.3 Some health-related quilts are the singular expression of one person’s experience with illness or coping with adversity. For some diseases or disasters, there are literally tens of thousands of quilts. Aided by the quick dissemination of information via blog accounts, Facebook pages, websites ,andothersocialmedia,long-standinghealth-relatedquilttraditionsarebecomingmore widespread and new traditions are emerging. Increasingly, quilts are being made and used in health-care contexts. They are used to help create welcoming, comforting, and healing environments in hospitals and other caregiving settings; to provide dignity for those who are undergoing care; and to provide hands-on activities that help patients cope with their institutional care in a positive way. Recent research shows that making and using quilts has a measurable impact on strengthening cognitive abilities and mitigating emotional health issues. The words “quilt,” “patchwork,” and other terms associated with quiltmaking have also become part of our language related to health. Health coverage is referred to as being “pieced” or “patched together.” One health information security project is even named HealthQuilt; the corporate logo for another health security firm is based on a quilt pattern, and a quilt of that logo hangs in their corporate office.4 The stories behind these quilts are often moving and speak strongly to the healing power of quilts and quiltmaking. Individuals tell about making and using quilts to cope with and recover from major illness, grief, and traumatic events. Many references are given to quilts being used as “textile hugs,” enfolding the user in warmth and comfort. Whether or not they know the maker of the quilt, recipients know that another individual in the world cares about Introduction 2 | Quilts and Health them. Most of these stories are simply shared person-to-person, yet, more and more often, quilt and health stories are being recorded and shared through folklife and oral history projects ; state and regional quilt documentation projects; and associated publications, films, blogs, and websites.5 It is through these stories that the meaning and message of the quilts is more completely understood and that the deep connections between textiles and health become evident. It is increasingly clear that the realm of quilts and quiltmaking is massive—in terms of numbers of makers and users—and is having a profound impact on the lives of individuals and on medical education and care. It is an important aspect of history that deserves to be better known. Indeed, quilts have documented history, including that of medical research. For example, one particular quilt by Helen Murrell is a statement of outrage and bewilderment for the unjust treatment of 600 African American men who, without their knowledge or consent, were subjected to a forty-year medical experiment conducted for the United States government. Through the experiment, 399 men were deliberately infected with syphilis and were allowed to go untreated, even after a cure was developed. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study has been called perhaps the most infamous biomedical research in U.S. history and led to the establishment of the Office for Human Research Protections. Demonstrated knowledge and understanding of the moral and ethical dimensions of the “Tuskegee experiment” are requirements for those undertaking research with human subjects.6 The quilt was one of more than eighty-five commissioned from artists by Carolyn L. Mazloomi for And Still We Rise: Race, Culture, and Visual Conversations, an exhibition of quilts that chronicles important people and events in African American history.7 Quilts and their associated stories, systematically studied, have great potential to help us understand the human experience of illness and health, advance medical knowledge, and, ultimately , enhance the quality of health care, outcomes, and life. Yet, remarkably, the making and use of quilts for health...


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