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!

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