Quilts and their creator have histories to share

The Charlotte Observer

VOICES |
Quilts and their creator have histories to share
Stories in stitches still are being passed down three generations later
By Kym Gordon Moore

Bursting with vibrant psychedelic colors, geometric patterns and multi-textural fabrics, hundreds of handmade quilts were displayed in the booth I passed, painting portraits of many unspoken stories. Sitting on a folded chair, a third-generation quilter gently gripped a silver needle containing translucent thread, then meticulously hand-stitched uniform and abstract pieces of fabric together.

As we engaged in a few minutes discussing her handmade masterpieces, I discovered that quilting is not simply a pastime for her but a history lesson grounded in rich African American culture. She enjoys sharing the stories behind each one of her quilts and supplies a “Certificate of Authenticity” with each she sells. There’s not a lot of waste when quilting.

I noticed she used a particular pattern quite often and asked if there was any significance. Her face beamed with excitement as she explained that the pattern called “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight” was a strong political statement named to show support for the United States in its boundary dispute with England in the 1840s.

It also was later used for the Underground Railroad. When hung out on a clothesline, it was a signal to runaway slaves that they would be safe in that home. Missouri was a border state between the North and the South, so that’s why the Underground Railroad was so active there. “Fifty-Four, Forty or Fight” is one pattern that has never been changed.

She said she took that pattern passed down from her mother and grandmother, then expressed how God had blessed her with using it. I was swept away by her patterns, shapes and colors that paint a poetic era in quilting history.

Clearly, this God-fearing, gentle-spirited lady enjoys her craft. She produces hundreds of handmade quilts in a variety of sizes, colors and complementary accoutrements.

I felt as if I had traveled through time during those five minutes I spent with my new friend. What a journey! Her humble attitude and willingness to share some historical recollections about a pivotal time in our country was a blessing to me. Her words resonate in an important observation: “When you know your history, you can stand up and not be easily persuaded. If you don’t know your history, you’re going to repeat the same mistakes.”

© 2006 Charlotte Observer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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