Kinship and Quilting: An Examination of an African-American Tradition

Floris Barnett Cash
1995 The Journal of Negro History  
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more » ... le-consciousness, this peculiar sensation; this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity."1 In order to understand the historical experience of the multifaceted lives of African-American women, it is necessary to integrate the folk culture into the existing body of knowledge of black women. This work examines the inventiveness of African-American women in the decorative art of quilting. It acknowledges the diverse role of these women in the history of quilting in America. This discussion of kinship and quilting broadens our perspective of African-American history and quilting and gives new meaning to an old tradition. Quilts can be used as resources in reconstructing the experiences of African-American women. They provide a record of their cultural and political past. They are important art forms. Yet, until recently, the historical contributions of African-American women to the craft were virtually dismissed. African-American women, whose voices are largely unknown, have often unconsciously created their own lives and are the voices of authority on their experiences. The voices of black women are stitched within their quilts. Historians, such as Elsa Barkley Brown and Bettina Aptheker have analyzed everyday issues of women's lives. Aptheker believes that women's culture, quilts, poems, stories, and paintings provide a clear interpretation of their actions and beliefs on their terms.2 Brown raised the question of how to discuss the lives of African-American women whose experiences are peripheral to the center. She used African-American women's quilting as a cultural guide.8 Artists, such as Alice Walker, who have quilting in their family backgrounds have enlightened us with insights through their novels.4 In Margaret Walker's novel Jubilee, Innis Brown responding to his wife, Vyry, stated, "slaves where was I done everything. Just like you can make candles and soap and feather beds, rag rugs, and quilts, and spin and weave and sew, and cooking was your main job, I learned to do a lots of things 'sides working in the fields."5 Later, Vyry's skills as a midwife led
doi:10.2307/2717705 fatcat:owilqfivfrgsfledipnyiia6bi