Mourning and grief appear in quilts in many ways, including using text on the top. Writing memories of someone who has passed is a concrete way to make those memories more permanent. And including text on quilts turns an object of comfort into a soft written record of a life lived.
In 1842, quilter Nancy Ward Butler made a quilt to mark the passing of her 20-month-old granddaughter who was named after her. Referred to as the “Tombstone Quilt,” Butler recorded her granddaughter’s name, the date of her death, and her age in appliqué on her quilt top. A second similar quilt, possibly attributed to Butler, uses text to memorialize her son and another granddaughter, suggesting that she may have found comfort in recording text on quilts during her grief.
Over a century later in 1985, activist Cleve Jones founded the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. NAMES Project panels are characterized by text and are typically made by loved ones memorializing someone who has died. But in 1989, Duane Kearns Puryear made his own panel. Puryear included his name, birthday, and the date and time of his AIDS diagnosis. In bold capital letters on a plain white background, he added, “Sometimes, it makes me very sad. I made this panel myself. If you are reading it, I am dead…”
As quilt historian Gail Andrews Trechsel wrote, “The abilities that quilts have to bring people and memories together, to offer comfort to the makers, and to provide tangible memorials to the deceased are unmatched in any other medium.” These quilters, along with Penny Gold, share a connection through time, text, quilts, and mourning.
Additional Quilt Information:
Materials Hand-dyed cotton, felt batting
Technique Machine applique, machine quilted
Dimensions 68 x 94 inches