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African-American Quilts and Quiltmakers: Home

A guide to supplement a library display during February 2014

Guide Author

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Ellen Wilson
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Marx Library 420
5901 USA Drive North
Mobile, AL 36688

African-American Quilting

Is there a distinct style to African-American quilts? One school of thought argues that African-American quilts are distinct because of 'Africanisms,' an aesthetic with large design elements, bright and contrasting colors, improvisation, and symbolism. Another school of thought argues that there are wide variations in works made by African-American quilters and that quilt styles are more dependent on region, socioeconomic status, and education than on a connection to African aesthetics. The links below from the International Quilt Study Center & Museum discuss this in further depth. 

The quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama, feature asymmetry, improvisation, and bright colors and are frequently held as an exemplar of African-American quilting. Because of our geographic location in Alabama, many of the USA libraries' holdings focus on this style.

Marx Library Resources

Quilts and the Underground Railroad?

Were quilts used to signal the route of the Underground Railroad? The book linked below, Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, claims that quilts were used to signal safe houses and the route north. Similar stories have circulated within families and quilting circles. However, historians, folklorists, and quilt scholars dispute these claims because adequate scholarly proof has not been provided. Furthermore, several of the quilt patterns mentioned in the code discussed in Hidden View did not exist until the 20th century. References to the use of quilts as signaling devices have yet to be traced in primary sources. However, the idea remains popular and appears frequently in popular media accounts and children's picture books. 

Web Resources: African-American Quilts

Web Resources: Gee's Bend