Becketwood Cooperative
An Active, Independent 55+ Community of Owners in Minneapolis

Quilts – Connection and Creativity

by Jane Johnson, Becketwood Member

In September, the Becketwood Art Committee is planning a member quilt show, at my suggestion. Helen Gilbert is the coordinator. Once they put out the request for submissions, so many wonderful quilts came to the surface that they have planned a second show for 2019!

What do quilts mean to you?

A quilt is three layers of fabric stitched together. Usually this consists of a decorative top, an inner batting and a practical backing. The stitching can be done by hand or machine and can be simple or complex.

But quilts are so much more than fabric they are made of. Here is a little of what they mean to me.

Quilts provide warmth and comfort. I started learning to quilt in October of 2001. Not because of this time in our history but in spite of it. For months after the terrorist attacks, I was scared it would happen here. I heard Air Force fighter planes overhead at night, guarding our skies even in this midwestern city. I fell asleep saying the 23rd Psalm. I literally thanked God every morning for another day of life. I remember going out to my quilting class in the dark of those October and November nights, when there was so much uncertainty in our world. Quilting was a spark of light and pleasure during those dark days and continues to be in these.

Warmth and comfort: Recently a friend of mine made a quilt for her sister who has cancer. The quilt is a tree surrounded by sayings about all the things that cancer “cannot do.”

Quilting provides connection. Many people have quilts that were given to them by mothers and grandmothers. Often quilting was a skill that was passed down—a thread of connection through the generations. None of my foremothers were quilters. My sister Laurel inspired me. She made a flower garden quilt for me during a dark time in my life, when one of my best friends had died of ovarian cancer and as our father was declining in health.

During World War II, American Mennonite Circles made quilts that were sent to a  Dutch Mennonite couple, who saved the lives of many Jews fleeing the Nazi’s. After the war, the same couple worked getting quilts and other essentials to Russian refugees, fleeing into Holland (Passing on the Comfort, by Lynn Kaplanian-Buller and An Keuning-Tichelaar). Some of these quilts eventually arrived back in America, as refugees found new homes here. My mom and I saw an exhibit of a few of these quilts at Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church. Continuing the thread of connection.

Our Becketwood Quilters make quilts for charities such as battered women’s shelters and hospices, offering connection and caring to those who are suffering—and offering camaraderie to each other. Throughout history there are examples of women quilting together in quilting bees, or in guilds—connection in the often isolated circumstances of their lives.

Quilts help us celebrate special occasions. Many times quilts are made to celebrate weddings or births, again connecting families.

Quilting has now been recognized as a major art form. Throughout history, women’s creativity was often confined to the domestic sphere of life. While even the most basic quilt is functional, no one can deny their beauty. I’ve attended the Minnesota Quilters Annual Quilt Show for at least 15 years. It’s been interesting to see the emergence of “art quilts” over those years. Some are appliqué: I made a wild flower picture using traditional needle-turn appliqué. Others use raw edge appliqué. Still others use layers of fabric positioned to make a picture. Some art quilts are quite abstract. Some use beads, crystals and multicolored thread.

Quilts document history, both personal and as a society.  The International Quilt Study Center website says “Quilts are tactile pages of our shared American Story, each different, but part of a Collective Whole.” There are picture quilts from pioneer days, the  Civil War, and from the Hmong Culture. There are quilt exhibits memorializing those lost in Vietnam, 9/11, and AIDS. Quilts also document textile history through the gradual changes in the fabric and dyes that are used.

Last year I finished a Dresden Plate quilt—hand-pieced, hand-appliquéd and hand-quilted over 10 years. This quilt is a thread of memories of those years. I worked on it in the car on a vacation Ken and I took to Colorado. I worked on it in the waiting room of my mother’s doctor’s office. I worked on it in the living room of my mother’s Becketwood unit, when she was receiving hospice care.

Quilts have been used to express our values. Women made quilts during the Women’s Suffrage and Temperance Movements to draw attention to their causes. Pacifism, feminism, religious freedom, civil rights and patriotism have all been represented in quilts I have seen at shows.

So, what do quilts mean to you? Each quilt in our Member Show has meaning to its maker. By having this show of Member Quilts at Becketwood I hope we demonstrate not only the creativity of our members, but also the connection and collaboration that pervade our community.


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  • Maura Kolars August 8, 2018, 5:25 pm

    How beautiful, Jane!! Also interesting is how quilts were used as messages in the Underground Railroad as slaves were escaping to the North. Quilts of different patterns hung outside on the laundry line in different ways meant different things; ‘Ok to approach’, ‘Danger! Stay hidden! and other messages.

  • Rosemary Rawson August 14, 2018, 6:00 pm

    As one who made only simple three-color quilts with straight seams that even so took most of an impatient summer at the lake, I am blown away by your lovely dresden plate quilt and all it represents. Thank you, Jane. Can’t wait to see it “in person.”