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Silencing the Quilters

I showed this picture in the last post, of the books I’d picked up at a garage sale.  The three smaller ones are interesting, and I’ve found a few new blocks to try sometime. The other was intrigued me because it reminded me of the Farmer’s Wife blocks that are being made by several around the blogosphere.  The authors, Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Buferd, created what they called “a unique oral history” of the quilters of Texas and New Mexico.

I started reading some while standing in the driveway at the garage sale:

“Back in the old days we had to make the quilts so thick.  You know in those old dugouts the wind would come through so bad that you really had to be covered to sleep.  Papa would bring the cotton back from the gin, you know. Just how ever much Mama needed.  It was all clean then. . . . We stayed busy every minute we had quilting.  We all worked in the fields and mother didn’t have any idle time.  If anything let up, she was working on her quilts.”

I was hooked so I bought it and took it home.  But after skimming some of the book, and reading the introduction, I was kind of angry.  Here were all these “oral histories” of women talking about hard times as farmer’s wives, as women on the prairie, quilting whenever they could, yet the authors didn’t identify ANY of these women.  Not one.  How is this preserving oral histories?  As the poet Lowell said, “the gift without the giver is bare,” and so likewise these oral histories are just ephemeral without the women’s names.

The authors make an apology, of sorts:

“In the interest of brevity and continuity we have often condensed conversations, monologues, and run-on conversations on similar subjects without indicating that the speaker has changed.”


And then this horrifying note: “We take full responsibility for editing the tapes and our notes in this way.”  Is this because someone at the publishing house raised an alarm?  I hope that some editor did, somewhere.  My sister, who is a REAL historian, would cringe at this.  As I do.  I still enjoy reading the accounts, but I trust them less.  It’s like that old Aunt Jane stuff we read so often, quoted as if Aunt Jane of Kentucky was a real person.  She’s not.  She’s fiction, and I’m afraid that some of this is like fiction too.

On balance, the play Quilters was taken from this book, and I found that extremely moving the first time I saw it.  And the next time, too.  Perhaps scholarship meant something different then?  That the very fact that these women’s voices — albeit anonymous voices — were published was a Huge Deal?  Maybe.

You bloggers are documenting your quilts with your voice, whether you post one day or four days a week, whether you make a quilt a week or a quilt in a year.  Your blogs and writing have authenticity as you document your ups and downs, your WIPs, your completed quilts.  You have a voice.  You are not like these unknown, silent women from the prairies.  You put a face and name to your creativity and it enriches us all. Keep writing!

3 thoughts on “Silencing the Quilters

  1. gosh. you are so incredible! thanks so much for this. sometimes we get caught up in whether anyone is reading or whether we’re keeping up, but this post reminds me that I started blogging to document my creativity. I love that! Thanks so much, Elizabeth.

  2. fabulous post elizabeth – and so true – how wonderful we can make our voices heard – it’s like the nameless quilts that surface all the time – no one knows who, or why, or what they were thinking when they put it together – but with this medium, it’s there for anyone to read, and collect.

    excerpts from these blogs would make a wonderful book

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