There’s No Glue in Quilting

Workshop participants admire a quilt-in-process made of fabric from Nigeria.

On Saturday, March 3, the Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding The AIDS Memorial Quilt program staff and documentation team got a glimpse of what will be happening inside the Quilting Bee tent during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The Women’s Collective  in Washington, D.C., hosted a Call My Name Workshop for a day of sewing quilt panels. The NAMES Project Foundation created this nation-wide series of workshops in response to the disproportionate number of African American quilt panels to the number of African Americans killed by AIDS. Call My Name is an effort to gather African American communities around commemorating their friends and family and creating a better representation of the African American HIV/AIDS population in The AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Tierra, whose grandmother is HIV positive, works with children infected with HIV/AIDS. At the Call My Name workshop she sewed names onto a quilt.

The workshop opened with a libation, a ritual pouring of liquid in memory of those who have transitioned, while their names are said aloud. After speaking a name, the group answered with “ase,” an African word meaning “and so it will be,” as a bestowal of power and authority that the speakers’ blessings be carried forth. Then the quilting began!

A signature square ready for workshop attendees to write messages and sign their names with permanent marker.

Quilt panels, which measure 3′ by 6′, of various designs and stages of completion were splayed on tables with plenty of needles and thread for anyone to sit down and start sewing. Some people brought personal quilts they were making in memory of a close friend or family member who died from AIDS. Other quilters were there to be put to work sewing the letters of names on community panels or a big red ribbon in the center of a panel on which people could write messages and sign their names with a marker. For the less experienced sewers, workshop leader Juanita Williams taught the art and skill of the running stitch as well as reminding everyone that the back of the stitches have to look just as nice as the front.

Juanita Williams talks about quilting and African American representation in The AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Ms. Williams, who will be leading quilting workshops at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, also told us that “glue” is a bad word in quilting. Quilters use stitch witchery to tape down pieces of fabric until they can be sewn on permanently, but they never use glue. “When you hear ‘Oh no’ or ‘glue’ in quilting, you know something’s wrong.”

Quilters also brought out dolls they made from fabric and recycled glass bottles while others passed around beaded African bracelets with “I  U  + or –” in the pattern. The sewing conversations jumped from politics to stories about friends or other quilt panels to hula-hooping to HIV/AIDS education. Although most of these quilts were not finished by the end of the day, the goal is to have them finished and added to The AIDS Memorial Quilt in time for display in Washington, D.C., for the Folklife Festival on June 27–July 1 and July 4–8 and the International AIDS Conference on July 22–27.

Anna F. Kaplan is the program coordinator for the 2012 Festival program Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding The AIDS Memorial Quilt. She has a master’s in Oral History and a master’s in Anthropology from Columbia University.