Giving Quilts When Disaster Strikes

When Hurricane Harvey brought historic flooding to large areas of Texas and Louisiana earlier this week, quilters all across the world began planning donation quilts. Quilters are among the most generous of artists, who routinely give away their work to comfort, warm and cheer the recipient, often someone they’ve never met. Quilt Alliance Oral History Program Coordinator, Emma Parker, looked into the Quilters’ S.O.S. oral history collection to find three excerpts that speak to this tradition of the generosity and care taking that quilters have provided for centuries.

Irene Fankhauser, interviewed by Sharon Ann Louden in Tecumseh, Nebraska in 2009.

Irene Fankhauser

SL: How do you think quilts are important for American life?

IF: I think that quilts are [clears throat.] important to the history of America because the early settlers had to use pieces of material they had in order to make quilts they were utility quilts they had to make them to keep warm. My grandmother my dad’s mother made a quilt for her mother when their home was destroyed by a tornado and that was about in the late 1890’s or early 1900’s. Evidently the quilt passed on to another daughter who was a sister of my grandmother and a few years ago when she passed away her son gave it to me because she had put a note on there saying what had happened and that the quilt was made by my grandmother and so I got it kind of around the bush so I have that now too.

Mitzi Wiebe Oakes interviewed by Nola Forbes in South Burlington, Vermont in 2009.

Mitzi Wiebe Oakes

MO: I did a lot of small quilts to get through the Katrina hurricane, where my daughter’s house was destroyed. She was in desperate need of having small quilts for the hospital. I made as many as possible. And also did the quilt guild. We sent, I think, over seventy quilts to New Orleans.

MO: I do have trouble letting go of my quilts. They all represent something about my life or me at the time I do them. They really do tell a story about my life.

Donna Sue Groves interviewed by Karen Musgrave in Columbus, Ohio in 2008.

DG: I thought that it would grow, it would probably grow out throughout the Appalachian region, the thirteen states. Really never thought so much about the United States in 2001, and it growing that big, but what’s interesting is now that for the last seven years, and I’ve watched it go into Iowa and Missouri and Kansas and Indiana and Illinois and Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia. As I’ve watched it grow and participated in that growth, I’ve come to realize that what I didn’t realize before, that rural people, in our rural lands, the places that people settled with their families and on small farms, are truly the backbone of America, and that we’re not so different from one another. I never thought about Iowa up until 2002. I never really gave a lot of thought about Illinois or Indiana. Now, when I hear the news of the great flooding that’s happening in Iowa or along the Mississippi, now I reflect and think about those folks. My life always has been, tied to other states, counties, but now I think about how really really flat we are and how we’re intertwined and connected together. You can take one project, Adams County, Ohio for example; you could take our project in 2001, teleport it to Mason County, West Virginia, right now. They’re planning theirs. They have their first quilt square up. You couldn’t tell the difference except the names have changed and maybe the shapes of the barns. We’re all one family, in a sense. We all have similar dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

KM: There’s power in quilting. I believe that.

DG: There is power in quilts. Everybody has a quilt story. Everybody remembers a quilt.


I appreciated reading your quilt stories… And, you’re right “Everyone has at least one quilt story”. I have many quilt stories, especially since I grew up on my family’s Georgia farm in the 1950-60’s. Yes, there is love in a quilt… pure and generous Love.

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