Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Origins of One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts (Part One of Many)

I first encountered One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts (OHGWQ) as I was researching Chinese patchwork traditions.

As the curator responsible for building our museum's collection of non-Western quilts and related textiles, I was curious to find out what kinds of quilting and patchwork have traditionally taken place in China. One form of Chinese folk art that I quickly discovered was the bai jia pao(白家袍), or "One Hundred Families Robe." As I was researching the Chinese concept of one hundred families, I also found websites for one hundred good wishes quilts. In a later post, I will address more directly the possible relationships between the two.

Bai jia pao are silk patchwork robes that were made for hundreds of years as talismanic, or spiritually protective, garments for children. Because each patch was supposed to be donated by different families, the garment was believed to bestow the strength of these households on the young wearer, usually a boy. Auspicious symbols were also embroidered on the bai jia pao to give even more spiritual protection from malevolent spirits and ghosts.

I've discovered at least 10 of these bai jia pao in museums and private collections. Here is an excellent example that I had the opportunity to examine at the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) in March, 2011. Many thanks to SLAM for allowing me to use these images.

Han Chinese Boy's Robe ("One Hundred Households Robe"), late 19th century

embroidered silk with silk and metallic threads

back: 27 5/8 in. (70.2 cm)
arm span: 39 9/16 in. (100.5 cm)

Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of Julius A. Gordon and Ilene Gordon Wittels in memory of Rose Gordon  112:1989

This bai jia pao is composed of approximately 155 roughly 1.75" (measured side to side) hexagons. The silks are in a range of colors, mostly in damask weaves. Each patch has a different embroidered motif on it, except for two patches with a rotund boy (likely a symbol of abundant, healthy sons) and two patches with a woman on it (perhaps symbolizing the mother or commissioner of the robe?).

A rotund boy, representing the hope for many healthy sons, an idea central to traditional, patriarchal Chinese society.

An elegant woman, perhaps representing the mother and/or female commissioner/maker of the garment.
Other auspicious motifs appear on this bai jia pao; for instance the shou longevity symbol on the right (on the red hexagon) and the qi lin, a mythical creature often depicted with a boy on its back, as here, to symbolize the wish for abundant sons.
Finally, here is a yin yang and ba gua (trigrams) symbol that is so integral to the Daoist idea of spiritual and cosmological balance. (For some reason, I find it so interesting to see an octagon inside a hexagon.)

In my next post, I will talk more about bai jia pao and other possible points of origin for the contemporary One Hundred Good Wishes Quilt.

I'm off to the Textile Society of America meeting in Washington, D.C. tomorrow to deliver a paper about OHGWQ -- wish me luck!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts -- an Introduction

Being a curator at a quilt museum is a dream job. I get to work with textiles from all over the world and from many different eras. But when I decided to start my PhD, I knew that one type of contemporary quilt should become the focus of my research: One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts.

One Hundred Good Wishes Quilt -- courtesy of the Kainz Family
One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts are made to celebrate the adoption of a child from China. Adoptive families solicit meaningful or specially-selected fabrics from family and friends, construct the quilt, and document the good wishes that are sent with the fabric, often in a scrapbook. They also sometimes create a web page or blog to document the process. The final product, the quilt, serves to welcome the adopted child into her/his new family.

One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts have roots in the Chinese/Buddhist tradition of regarding patchwork as spiritually protective, especially in clothing. Silk patchwork robes called baijia pao(白家袍)were made in China for centuries, particularly for young boys, and were believed to protect children from the attentions of evil ghosts and spirits.

Even stronger roots can be found in the American tradition of making quilts to commemorate a wide range of family and community events: births, deaths, marriages, graduations, etc. Americans, and American women in particular, have often turned to quiltmaking to express strong emotions about the most important events in their lives.

I am drawn to studying One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts for many reasons:
--I've been interested in China ever since I started going to Chinese language summer camp when I was 12.
--In my academic life, I've often examined the way cultures interface with each other, and how/why multiple cultural influences can appear and merge in a single object (like a textile).
--I believe in the emotional resonance of material culture, and textiles in particular. Textile objects can symbolize and summarize so many complex ideas and feelings.
--On a personal level, as a new mother I am deeply moved by the stories of families who choose to welcome an orphaned/abandoned child into their families and I want to understand better what role the making of a quilt played in that process.

Join me as I explore One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts, and stay in touch!

Why this Blog?

I am a curator at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM), a research center and museum that is part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). I did my graduate work here at UNL in Textile History and Museum Studies in the Department of Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design and have been a curator at the IQSCM since 2001.

I am also a PhD student in the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester in the UK. I'm doing my degree by distance learning and once a year I get to travel to England to check in with my adviser (hopefully to have her say, "well done!"). The focus of my research is One Hundred Good Wishes Quilts, quilts made to welcome adopted children from China into their new families.

The Kainz Family of Tracy, MN
I started this blog because I want to connect with more people who have made a One Hundred Good Wishes Quilt (OHGWQ). Or to people who have started a OHGWQ and not finished it. Or to people who have participated in a OHGWQ project. Or to people who are simply interested in quilts and/or China and/or adoption. So really, to anyone.
I've had the pleasure of emailing with many OHGWQ makers and will be doing interviews with more quilt makers over the next several months. People like Jen and Jason Kainz have been so gracious about telling me their quilt story and I hope to gather many more stories as my project continues. Please get in touch if you have a story to share!