four • Public and Collective Quiltmaking for Health and Well-being
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| 111 T housands of quiltmakers—whether as individuals or as members of quilt guilds or faith-based organizations—have joined with others to make what is broadly termed “charity” or “service quilts” to provide material and emotional comfort to those in need and to raise awareness about or funds for causes, including those related to health and well-being. Organized quilt projects target needs that cover nearly every imaginable situation in which quilts can provide emotional and physical comfort. There are quilt projects designed for survivors of human-made or natural disasters and for victims in emergencies such as domestic violence situations, fires, or car accidents. Whether the need is local or far away, quiltmakers are using their time and skills to address the needs of others who are hurting. Often these projects are linked to assistance efforts spearheaded by veterans organizations , religious organizations, medical professional organizations, groups of illness and trauma survivors, and patient advocacy and health education groups. This collective action is massive in terms of the numbers of quilts made, individuals comforted or educated about issues, and dollars raised for health needs. Such work underscores the magnitude of the impact of disaster, trauma, and disease not only on the individual but also on society as a whole. Quilts and Comforting on Both Local and Global Scales Twenty-first-century fiber artist Linda S. Schmidt sees this realm of quilting activity as a form of “resistance against mass production, shoddy workmanship, and an uncaring world.”1 In an extended essay on her website, she eloquently describes the work of what she terms “resistance quiltmakers”: My quilt guild, and your guild, and guilds all over the world are putting little scraps of leftover fabric, brand new fabric, stolen time and scavenged batting together to make quilts for people who need to have something given to them made by caring hands that they can call their own, when all else has been taken from them, even their dignity. Our guilds give these quilts to people who are on the run from abusive spouses and intolerable living conditions, suffering from terminal illness, or are carrying their few possessions in garbage bags. We are making AIDS quilts and cancer quilts, preemie baby quilts, lap quilts, Quilts of Valor, and raffling quilts to make money for the poor and forgotten ones. We’re out there, all over the world, doing our best to put the mesPublic and Collective Quiltmaking for Health and Well-being four} 112 | Quilts and Health sage out that there are still caring people in the world; people who know the importance of people helping other people, people who know about quilts.2 Schmidt realizes that her own individual action and her point action with others in making quilts for causes has the potential to make a difference. In describing a quilt she made to advocate for peace, she said: Like many people, I am a person that has never marched in a peace rally or stood up to be counted or ever really took a stand on anything that meant commitment to a cause. . . . I got to thinking—what if everybody did? What if every person who could do something , did? Something, anything, to help bring about peace in our time. I’m not good at a lot of things, but I can make quilts.”3 Like tens of thousands of individuals around the world, Schmidt has made quilts for causes, including health and wellness, about which she is passionate. History and Growth of Charity or Service Quiltmaking It was in nineteenth-century America that women really began to collectively mobilize their needle skills toward the needs of others outside of their own domestic households. It was a period in which the upper- and middle-class notion of a woman’s realm (in which women were expected to operate only within a domestic sphere and their work was deemed of low value) was gradually diminishing, manufactured cloth was more readily available, households were no longer dependent on creating their own textiles, and opportunities were increasing for women to gain education and be engaged in meaningful work outside the home.4 With the advent in America of the second Great Awakening, the religious revival that swept the nation, women were able to find positions of leadership and influence within their religious communities and actively formed and managed missionary, ladies aid, and auxiliary societies.5 In these new societal contexts, women began to make textiles for causes, whether local or global...


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