Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Women and Their Days, March 8

I celebrated International Women’s Day and A Day Without a Woman, today, March 8, by doing something unexpectedly relevant. The Essex County Needlecraft Guild meets monthly and invites speakers on needlecraft.

CelesteJaney is a well-known quilter whose work is owned by several museums. Today she talked about the code that has been discovered in quilts made by slaves, and used to guide those fleeing slavery for the North. Different patterns in different colors had different meanings for those looking for the trail north. The Underground Railroad, it seems, was a network of stops, like the squares in a quilt, guiding men and women safely out of the South. The quilts could be hung over a porch railing to signal the important message, such as “Don’t stop here,” or “Get food and provisions here,” or “The slave catchers are chasing you,” or “You’re coming to a crossing.” Quilts could also prepare the traveler for the helper he or she was going to meet along the way soon, and where to wait for that person.

CelesteJaney’s own work is stunningly elaborate, combining genealogy, printed squares with historical information, yarn trees and loose fabric leaves, and more. She has recreated some of the squares used in slave quilts as well as making elaborate scenes in applique.

One of the most striking displays were two pieces of mud fiber cloth from Mali.

For those who might think this way to spend International Women’s Day and A Day Without a Woman seems a bit regressive, consider that the dozens of women in attendance and others who do a lot of handwork are also professionals in a number of areas—science, psychology, education, medicine, and business, as well as the arts. 

But I for one believe there is something important about making something useful or beautiful by hand. We need more work that we are willing to hold up and say, Look, I made this. Here, you take and use it. We need to make things we can be proud of, whatever they are and in whatever area.

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