What: Review of Uncoverings 1991, Volume 12 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group
Topic: “A Quilt Guild: Its Role in the Elaboration of Female Identity"
Authors: Catherine A. Cerny; At the time of publication this author was an Assistant Professor at the University
of Rhode Island teaching on the social psychology of dress
Because this article was written over thirty years ago, I wasn’t sure when I opened my volume just how relevant this offering would be. It ended up being very thought-provoking. Since this article was written we have had a very real modern quilt movement that I believe needs to be described and included in the discussion. I urge readers to go to the actual article and learn what Cerny has to say. It is sure to stimulate some interesting responses particularly between generations.
The quilt world has experienced many changes in the years since this research was published, not the least of which are significant quilt-related industry and publication changes and an explosion of internet communication offerings for all things quilt related. And then there have been the pandemic-driven Zoom offerings from quilt guild meetings to individual lectures and workshops that have, of necessity, blossomed over the last couple of years. In reality, I think those are aspects that actually offer some good opportunities for further research and analysis and possibility for revision of some of Cerny’s findings.
This turned out to be as much about the psycho-social role of quilt making and guild membership on the individuals included in the study as it is an analysis of how quilt guilds contribute to the development of female identity and validation. The structure of her methodology and analysis is clearly outlined and described.
Cerny’s subjects were the 850 members of the Minnesota Quilters Inc of St. Paul and Minneapolis, primarily female with a few male members who occasionally attended meetings but did not participate in guild leadership or events. [p. 32] Her data gathering was done between September 1984 and September 1985. She constructed a three-page survey for her fieldwork on this project. [p. 36] There is so much historical discussion of nineteenth and twentieth century female cultural involvement here that my survey can only cover the points most meaningful to me. I urge readers to go to the actual article and learn what Cerny has to say. It is sure to stimulate some interesting responses particularly between generations. Please let me know what you think.
At one point, Cerny suggests that the mid-twentieth century development of quilt guilds came out of the rise of feminism and the women’s movement in the 1960s and 1970s which led to a need for networking opportunities much like that of “an ‘old boy’ network.” But she makes the point that unlike those male-centric networks women’s networks “provide mutual support within a context of ‘warmth and emotional openness.’” [p. 35] Cerny also suggests that some late twentieth century women were “uncomfortable with the ambiguities otherwise present in post-industrial society” and received validation and companionship within the quilt guild environment that spurred continued participation and personal growth. [p. 37]
One question arose for me…that is Cerny’s frequent use of the terms ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ quilters. She explains the “traditional style is that which is learned and adopted through observation of historic quilts” while “contemporary styles are derived from the traditional patterns, techniques, and uses. [p. 41] These observations left me wanting. Since this article was written we have had a very real modern quilt movement that I believe needs to be described and included in the discussion. I wonder if Cerny’s use of the term ‘contemporary’ could/should be replaced with the term ‘modern.’ If that were the case, there is a broader discussion more relevant to present day developments. But, in the final analysis, Cerny’s findings may still be valid within the context of her article’s defining title. This is a thesis begging for a redefinition. Read the article and think about it. Then let’s talk about it.
If you do not have a copy of this, or any, edition of Uncoverings, check the publication list on the AQSG website to see if the particular volume is available…many still are. To access an online version of any issue of Uncoverings find the links at www.quiltindex.org. As always, you can contact me at email@example.com.