Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Getting the quilt off the ground, so to speak

This is the opening post of what I hope will become a space rich with shared ideas, resources, and reactions. The Triangle Fire Memorial Quilt will take off from the fire itself, honoring the mostly young, immigrant victims, but also celebrating the history of working people in America--especially women and especially in the needle trades. Within that tapestry are threads of unions, courage, strikes, songs, art, and even moments of joy and victory. There are so many ways this quilt can take shape. I see the project at the intersection of ethics and aesthetics, about both the collaborative process and the product itself. There are so many different ways to create a square for the quilt--- what I see when this project keeps me up at night are mostly representational, images drawn from photographs, posters and other graphics, sheet music, relevant text and symbols. There are fabulous online resources for images; I've listed some essential ones here, but I'm sure you will have your own sources as well.
Kheel Collection at Cornell University they have an exhibit on the fire up now, as well as other digitized collections. casts a wider net.

The Library of Congress--a fabulous resource. (National Child Labor Committee, early 20th century)
Once you're on the LOC site, you'll find endless paths to explore.
Most of what you'll will be long out of copyright, but you should check with the institution about rights and access and attribution.
I know this a lot of information to absorb--it gives you an idea how rich and varied this quilt will be. Quilters and other artists (did I mention that painting a square would be wonderful?) can email me a snail-mail address and I will send out a 14 x 14" muslin square as a base---but feel free to use whatever fabric you want to. I know everyone is busy and harried, and this will take time---but I also know from personal experience that deadlines can be immensely inspirational; I'll think of something reasonable and let you know.


  1. Could you clarify a few things please
    It's not clear to me what you want - eclectic, anything goes, random blocks or a unified quilt. My own two cents is you could ask for individual miniature quilts (say 20" square). That allows freedom of design and technique and avoids having to put together a number of items that may or may not work. I don't know how much wall space you will have available but this also would allow for grouping or scattering throughout.

    1. Ah, what a good question. I think the answer will probably be somewhere between your first two suggestions, with some blocks at roughly 14 x 14 (unfinished), which I think allows for design play and detail in whatever technique one chooses--but the image should determine the size of the "square"--so that if what you want to do has a clearly horizontal feel to it, you can do that, and I will adjust the sashing to accommodate asymmetries. Ultimately, we hope that this quilt can be displayed at conferences, schools, relevant organizational meetings, etc., as a kind of vibrant statement and teaching tool--so the idea of individual little quilts probably offers too many opportunities for them to get lost. There is definitely an historical and ethical theme to this quilt---a general musical statement, but with room for lots of improvisations and key changes. I think, as we decide what our squares will be, we should keep each other informed, so that we avoid duplication and make sure that available portraits of some of the victims (there are a number) and iconic figures like Mother Jones are represented.

  2. Dear Robin,
    I am a quilter and would love to contribute a block to the "Triangle
    Fire" quilt; my grandmother worked in a straw hat factory at this time so the subject is very dear to my heart. I am unclear of how to contact you; I would like for you to send me a photo of one of the women who I would like to commemorate in a quilt block. Please contact me at
    Best regards,