Quilting as Storytelling
Creating quilts has traditionally been used to tell a narrative through cloth, often made collaboratively through the collection of many scraps of fabric, hand stitched or sometimes not.
Artist, Hayley Berrill, started using painting and drawing as a way to organize color and show structure within her surroundings, which soon naturally developed into creating quilts. The idea of color blocking is complimented with black and white squares of different sizes, which become like visual illusions on the expanse of the quilts. Her work is not only aesthetically mesmerizing, but commemorates her time spent attending Savannah College of Art and Design. Her memories are often experienced through cloth, many of which are gathered from gifted, naturally dyed linen from fellow fiber artists, scraps from a friend’s senior fashion collection, collaboratively designed printed cloth from a class project, as well as scraps from dyeing classes and wool given to Hayley from professor and quilter, Pamela Wiley – who taught her to quilt in the first place. Hayley mentions that, “In discussing these quilts I think it’s important to highlight those that made them possible – whether they taught me, inspired me, or were just a support system. And that’s why I truly view these quilts as a sort of collaboration.” Like a scrapbook, memories grow and live in the quilt, and become more cherished over the years.
Meg Callahan is a textile artist who was asked to exhibit at the Black and White Quilt Show along with the previously mentioned Pamela Wiley. The piece she created for this show is an excellent example of her expert craftsmanship all while honoring the tradition of quilting. Her compositions consist of an arrangement of geometric shapes that are softened with a simple color palette, that almost make the piece seem as if it comes from both the past and present. Most of the pieces in her collection are made with a combination of naturally dyed fabrics and white cotton. Other examples of her work include digitally printed fabric that is measured to exact dimensions and sewn with a computer controlled machine. Meg Callahan’s work is often made in dedication to cities that touched her heart.
This past winter, artist and activist, Chi Nguyen, teamed up with the Textile Arts Center along with the Center for Reproductive Rights, to use quilting as activism to show support for the 5.4 million women in Texas whose right to safe and legal abortion access was at risk. The 5.4 Million and Counting Project was born, and contributors were asked to embroider fabric swatches with tally marks, with each stitch representing an individual woman of reproductive age living in Texas. On March 2nd, the quilt contained over 350,000 embroidered tally marks, as we stood in front of the Supreme Court alongside Nguyen and countless other men and women who came out to demonstrate. As of June 27th, 2016, the Supreme Court decided to strike down the Texas clinic shutdown law – a historic victory for women. You can read more about the 5.4 Million and Counting Project here.
Maura Grace Ambrose is another graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, who found her calling in quilting. The artist behind Folk Fibers, Ambrose takes an entirely natural approach to quilting – using all natural fibers and dyes, foraged and gathered from outside her home in Austin, TX. All of her quilts have a focus on sustainability, so that they can be passed down from generation to generation. Ambrose’s quilts tell a story of the earth, and her color choices are inspired by the world outside. Perhaps even more impressively, her quilts are entirely hand-stitched. “The heritage of hand quilting is what has brought us together, and already our craftsmanship and techniques have grown from sharing with each other as a community.” – Maura Grace Ambrose.
Cloth based narrative art can be a sort of documentation of current culture as well as memories and observations about the world around us. Just as much as quilting is its own form of storytelling, it is also a natural way to bring communities together.