Labeling quilts is an interesting topic for me. Historically, labeling quilts was not the norm. Some modern interpreters assume that the women of the past didn't think their work deserved credit, as this quote from Womenfolk.com exemplifies:
Most women of the past simply didn't think that the everyday or even "for best" quilt they made was important enough to sign. Some even felt it would be too prideful to sign their quilt.
I hesitate, however, to argue motives from a lack of evidence. We have positive evidence of makers marking their quilts in several instances, such as when making signature quilts as gifts or community projects, or when labeling a quilt for laundry purposes. Even the source cited above, which claims women failed to label quilts because they thought their work unimportant, then goes on to describe an uptick in labeling when indelible inks came on the market. Did women suddenly find their quilts important then?
Unsigned quilts were exhibited at county fairs, shipped across the ocean as gifts, saved for generations, and described in letters. Clearly they were not unimportant, even if they went unsigned. So maybe there are other explanations for not signing. Maybe the makers lived in smaller communities than we do today, and within those communities the people who mattered knew who made what. Perhaps the makers didn't care about a hundred years down the line because they never expected their quilts to last that long!
CAN WE BLAME THE PATRIARCHY?
Several websites I have viewed lament that tracking quilt history is complicated because "women's work" was historically devalued, and the lack of labels is taken as evidence of such. Again, I hesitate to say so. I'd counter that many handcrafts made by men also went unlabeled. How many old cabinets have no names? How many pieces of glasswear, fishing poles, and hand-carved pipes? A cursory look in any museum's collections will find hundreds of objects ascribed only to "such-and-such culture", with an approximate date. Prior to the industrial revolution, labeling anything was out of the norm, and if it was done, it was likely to be done by professionals making a product for sale. My grandfather, working in the 1960's and 70's, made furniture and picture frames, and never signed them. Was he being oppressed by the patriarchy?
Perhaps a Civil War era woman would've thought that labeling her quilt was oddly detached, as if she were trying to pretend to be a company instead of a person. We don't know, and we can't assume that her quilt went unsigned because she had internalized misogyny or because her culture didn't value her labor. Our foremothers' silence is not proof of their victimhood.
While I can't speculate about quilt-makers a hundred years ago, I can tell you why I do (and sometimes don't) label my own quilts.
I have labeled two quilts so far, and have labels ready for a few more. Simple Illusions and Organized Chaos got labels because they were gifts or because I wanted to give credit where it was due to the designer of the pattern. If I know the recipient won't know how to launder it, I might label it with washing/drying instructions. Meadow Quilt will get a label, because it's inspired by another artist, and I want to give him credit for inspiring me. I will also label a quilt if it's going to be exhibited in a show, because quilt shows nowadays require labels! (I haven't yet exhibited, but my quilting mentor challenged me to, so I have plans for 2023!)
However, I label my quilts against some inner resistance. I don't always want to add a label!
For one thing, I feel like my workmanship is enough of a signature; it doesn't matter to me if future generations know that Karen Roy made the thing; everything I want to say, I say in the work. The artist in me wants the art to stand on its own. The Bible says all Creation testifies to its Creator, yet He didn't write His name on any of it... if it's good enough for God, shouldn't it be good enough for me? I think, too, of my great-grandfather, who has a certain way of cutting his furniture edges that everyone in the family knew was his signature. And I might be the last person to remember, but that's okay, because the people who mattered to him knew.
Plus, I think about my experience as a thrift store shopper... sometimes I encounter a thing with writing on it (usually books... some people put their names in books!), and it makes me not want to buy the thing because it won't be fully mine when it has someone else's name on it. I feel the same about designer brands which put their name all over their products. Worse yet when someone gives me a thing with my name on it (usually books... why this obsession with graffiti-ing books?): it ties a chain to the gift, and now I can't get rid of it without guilt. The last time someone scribed a book to me on its flyleaf, I kept it for almost a decade longer than I wanted to, before excising the flyleaf with a razor blade and giving the book away -- marred, but unmarked.
I wonder if other people feel that way about quilts... maybe they'd want to buy it for a kid going off to college, but it has someone else's details all over it, so they leave it at the store. That would be a shame. But maybe someone else would feel the opposite, would think the label added value. So I am on the fence about labels.
LABELING THE ACID TRIP QUILT
I have decided to label my Acid Trip quilt, which is a gift for my brother. I have several reasons:
MAKING THE LABEL
I lay the interfacing atop the front side of the string-pieced unit, so the string pieced unit is face up, and the interfacing is glue-side-up. I sew them together along the penciled line. Then I cut out the center, making extra snips into the corners.
The next step is the fun part: I turn the interfacing to the back of the fabric unit. Now the gluey side is facing the back of the fabric unit, so I can press the edges down and they will stick.
Thus is the frame made... now for the label, which is a matter of penciling the info I want on some white fabric, then tracing my writing with thread. I like this method because the handwriting is my own, which is nice and personal. Once the label is done, I put the frame over it and top-stitch the edge of the frame to hold it all together.
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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