Like many objects rooted in the everyday, quilts have the capacity to communicate stories about the context in which they were made and used. They represent maps of the quilters’ lives—living records of cultural traditions, rites of passage, relationships, political and spiritual beliefs, landmark events, and future aspirations. In the same way, a map is a pocket-sized abstraction of the world beyond what can be seen; in a quilt, a maker’s choice of fabric and design reveals insights into the topography of her world and place within it.
Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts invites viewers 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 18 quilts from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum, New York, representing a range of materials, motifs, and techniques—from traditional early American quilts to more contemporary sculptural assemblage. The quilts in Handstitched Worlds show us how this too-often overlooked medium balances creativity with tradition, individuality with collective zeitgeist.