Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Carol D. Stevens
Quilting is a functional art form that has been practiced by generations of American women. In the past, quilting provided women with an outlet for personal expression. Learning to quilt acted as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. Quilting provided women with a means of recording their personal histories as well as an opportunity for socializing: quilting bees were social occasions that allowed women to gather together and establish connections with each other as they connected their quilt pieces.
Feminist history has recognized the quilt as an important symbol for women. Quilts represent strength, resiliency and the creative spirit that allowed women to cope with death, poverty and other hardships. In texts for adolescents , quilts are used to help women overcome such hardships and represent the strong bonds of love and family that female characters create within the home. Examining adolescent novels that make use of the quilt as a symbol reveals a series of images reflecting the role of women and young girls as storytellers, historians and keepers of the family. The way feminine roles are depicted accurately illustrates not only the community between women established by quilting, but also the strong bonds that quilts symbolize between generations of women.
The connections made between characters within the stories while stitching together the quilts are vital to the development of young women. Young girls need connections to grow and communicate, and a united family, represented in adolescent novels by the patchwork quilt, provides these connections. In these novels, the creation of quilts helps characters explore issues of trust, love and acceptance of themselves and others. The quilt acts as a unifying force for women in young adult novels in much the same way it acted as a connecting force among women in the past. This sense of unity encourages feminine development, and the quilt acts as a material manifestation of the young girl's coming of age.
The quilts in adolescent novels act to bring together female characters through history and across time. Adolescent novels often use quilts to represent family history and connections passed through generations of characters. In this way, the quilt as a symbol in adolescent literature mirrors its role in women's histories. Historically, by uniting women and providing an artistic outlet when few others were offered, quilts offered new meaning to what began as a simple domestic task. In adolescent novels, the creation of quilts becomes a labor of love uniting characters, telling stories, and providing a means of expression for women.
Beaman, Anita L., "Connecting Threads: Quilts as Symbols in Adolescent Literature" (1999). Masters Theses. 1655.