Running Stitch - A QSOS Podcast explores quilt stories, revealing the inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations of contemporary quiltmakers by drawing on Quilters S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, the long running oral history project created by the Quilt Alliance in 1999.
Radical Quilt Histories
Quilt enthusiasts have been writing about the craft’s history for over 100 years now, first focused on collecting and sharing patterns based on historic quilts, and later collecting and trading published patterns, in essence building an analog database of quilts. These women began to interpret and synthesize quilt history, eventually moving their newspaper clippings and mimeographed copies to digitized forms. Today, quilt history flourishes in thousands of books and articles, online spaces, and exhibit galleries that collectively have expanded our understanding of the history of quilts and quiltmaking. The QSOS oral history collection of the Quilt Alliance has further contributed to that history by recording and preserving interviews with living quiltmakers. And Running Stitch now mines that archive, sharing highlights from the collection of over 1200 interviews with you. Jess Bailey is adding another layer to our understanding of quilt history. A young and relatively new quiltmaker, Jess makes quilts as a one woman studio called Public Library Quilts, a moniker she discusses with host Janneken Smucker in this episode. In addition to making quilts, Jess is an art historian currently living and working in London, where she studies medieval manuscripts. She combined her interest in quilts and historical research in her recently published zine, Many Hands Make a Quilt: Short Histories of Radical Quilting, published by Common Threads Press.
Sewing with Purpose
Sara Trail, and the non-profit organization she founded in 2017, the Social Justice Sewing Academy, has built on a long tradition of quilt artists who use quilts as part of their activist practices. Sara has been sewing and making quilts since she was a child, and transformed her work as a quiltmaker and fashion designer into that of community organizer. The Social Justice Sewing Academy has a mission to quote “empower individuals to utilize textile art for personal transformation, community cohesion, and to begin the journey toward becoming an agent of social change.”
Looking back to the nineteenth century, abolitionists, suffragists, and temperance activists all made quilts that espoused their beliefs, an essential outlet particularly during a time in which women could not vote or run for political office. Quilters continued this practice of using quilts in their activism into the twentieth century, projecting opinions and supporting causes, with Red Cross quilts, quilts celebrating New Deal programs, and quilts supporting political and social causes. Again in the late twentieth century, quilts emerged as a potent symbol of the feminist movement, along with loved ones who memorialized those who died of AIDS with quilt panels, and others who advocated against nuclear weapons, environmental destruction, and gun violence through their quilts. And quilts have remained an important means of communicating about racial injustice, a sad reminder that abolition, emancipation, and the civil rights movement have not in fact left us with a racially just society.
We often think of quilters as hobbyists, typically women who like to stitch beautiful bedcovers for use around the home, or to lovingly give to new babies or show off at quilt guild meetings. But for centuries, alongside hobbyist quilters have existed professional quilters, those who find a way to earn money for their craft and even quit their so called day jobs. Going pro requires a big leap of faith, especially for younger quiltmakers, like the ones we are featuring during season three of Running Stitch. And today’s guest has recently taken that leap.
A few months ago Zak Foster was still earning a living as a high school Spanish instructor, something he had been doing for 18 years. But this fall he made the leap to professional, and in this interview he shares with us his motivations for doing so, some of the ways he is marketing his services, and he’ll tell us about the quilt he helped make that recently appeared on the red carpet at the Met Gala.
One of the most exciting aspects of the quiltmaking tradition is that within it, artists continue to innovate the form. Eliza Hardy Jones, has done just that with her remarkable Song Quilts series, combining folk music, oral history, and her creation of a notation system that transcribes music into quilt form. If that sounds completely cryptic, join Eliza, a professional musician, as she joins Running Stitch host Janneken Smucker, to discuss her Song Quilts project. They also listen to QSOS interview excerpts from Michael Cummings and Ricky Tims, who both, like Eliza, incorporate music into their quiltmaking.
Learning to Quilt
Some people made sourdough, some people got pandemic pets. Sarah Steiner became the @pandemicquilter, learning how to quilt from youtube and Instagram, and making over 20 quilts since summer of 2020 after not previously knowing how to wind a bobbin. Sarah joins Running Stitch host, Janneken Smucker, to listen back to QSOS interview excerpts about how quilters learned their skills during earlier eras, sharing how the pandemic inspired her to quilt.
Season 3 Trailer
Coming soon: season three of Running Stitch, a QSOS podcast. This season, we're focusing on younger quiltmakers -- quiltmakers who build on quilting traditions and contemporary influences to make something that's uniquely theirs. We'll listen back to interview clips with quilters from the past two decades, and talk with these quilters about the role of quilts in their lives and in society. Subscribe now and don't miss an episode of our third season of Running Stitch, a QSOS podcast!