Quilting and Grief

Countless women and some men have turned to their patchwork and quilting in times of grief. It can be meditative at a time when life is in chaos. It can be commemorative, incorporating clothing or images that reflect the deceased. The quilt may show no outward sign of the grief of the heart that made it or may overtly honor the deceased or express the feelings of the maker.

This block is at the center of a 19th century album quilt made in Rockland County, NY, and owned by the Historical Society of Rockland County. It commemorates the life of Edward H. Thompson who died June 3, 1851, aged 20 years.

We make quilts not only in response to private grief, but also to share public grief. The National Aids Memorial Quilt commemorates in a collective way the individuals who died of HIV/AIDS. Today that quilt has 50,000 panels and 110,000 names. You can read and watch videos at the National Aids Memorial Quilt site or explore the quilt online at the AIDS Interactive Memorial Quilt .

The COVID pandemic not only elicited a burst of mask-making in the early days, when PPE was in short supply, but inspired quilt artists to respond. Becky Goldsmith, a quilt designer, turned the knobby image of the virus into a free quilt pattern, "Searching for Beauty."

"Searching for Beauty" by Becky Goldsmith, Piece O'Cake

But most of all today, 20 years later, we remember the grief we shared on September 11, 2001, when the unimaginable happened. There was a project September11Quilts that collected 3' x 6' quilts from people sharing their feelings and making their memorials. You can view the quilts and read the artists' statements on their site. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum has a collection of quilts made in response to the events of that day. "Quilting after 9/11" shows part of that collection, reflecting the range of feelings we experienced.

Fragile. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, Gift of Drunell Levinson and of the contributors to the September 11 Quilts Memorial Exhibition. Photo by Drunell Levinson.

Spirits Rising II (2001). Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, Gift of Betsy Shannon, Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Michael Hnatov.

None of the quilts in the Bergen County Quilt and Coverlet Show have overt signs of mourning, but we will never know the thoughts and prayers of the makers and the hearts that were eased in the making of some of them.

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