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Handstitched Worlds 1

Handstitched Worlds

The Cartography of Quilts
  • Dates:
    Sep 17 - Jan 24 2022
  • Ages:
    All ages
  • Where:
    Fifth floor
  • Tickets:

    Included with general admission. Purchase in the museum or online.

  • Accessibility:


Quilts and maps can both share rich histories and complex stories. The Washington State History Museum is delighted to bring you Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts, exploring relationships between quilt making and cartography. This exhibition comes from the American Folk Art Museum (New York, NY).

Along with the curated quilts from the American Folk Art Museum, you’ll also see maps, objects, and additional quilts from Washington State Historical Society’s collections.

From the American Folk Art Museum:

Looking across city blocks and quilt blocks, roadways and seams, one can see a visible kinship between quilt making and cartography. Both are built upon established systems that use color, pattern, and symbols to create whole compositions from a network of interlocked parts. Quilts and maps are also infused with history and memory—similarly living records of traditions, experiences, relationships, beliefs, and future aspirations. What can be gleaned from a bit of patchwork cut from a wedding dress, castoff feed sack, or commemorative flag? How are personal, political, cultural, and spiritual ideals inscribed onto a quilt’s surface, creating a network of roadways and landmarks that illustrate the quilt maker’s world and his or her place within it?

Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts is an invitation to read quilts as maps, tracing the paths of individual stories and experiences that illuminate larger historic events and cultural trends. Spanning the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, the exhibition brings together a collection of quilts from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum that represents a range of materials, motifs, and techniques—from traditional early-American quilts to more contemporary sculptural assemblage.

Exhibition curator: Sarah Margolis-Pineo, assistant curator, Self-Taught Genius Gallery, American Folk Art Museum.

Image credit: Nora Ezell’s Star Quilt (1977). Collection of the American Folk Art Museum. Features a traditional eight-pointed Star of Hope pattern drawn from the artist’s own knowledge of the legacy of slavery, Reconstruction, and post-Reconstruction in the Jim Crow South. The star motif evokes the celestial navigation used by slaves on the Underground Railroad. The extraordinary quilts in this exhibition are living records of cultural histories, political and spiritual beliefs, and future ambitions.

This exhibition is generously supported by Humanities Washington and The Norcliffe Foundation.