One of the clients we recently had the pleasure of working for was the North Carolina Museum of History. We have translated text and signage for them numerous times, but for this exhibit we were able to provide audio as well. Visitors can scan a QR code next to the quilt to hear a spanish version of the object’s description. The exhibit is Quiltspeak: Uncovering Women’s Voices Through Quilts.


Luckily for us (and you!), the museum has uploaded videos of the Spanish audio alongside images of several quilts. The entire exhibit and Spanish audio can be found here.


We loved translating for this exhibit, because it highlighted women and their work. The relationships many of the women had were complicated, with some intricate quilts being made by enslaved women for their owner’s family. Some quilts were displays of wealth and leisure – meticulously stitched by upper-class women. Others displayed the ingenuity of their makers as they refused to let a scrap of fabric go to waste. 


A favorite, made in a tiny log cabin pattern.


On particular quilt was made of small rectangular suiting samples. Sample books would have been kept at the general store so men could order made to measure suits. Since general stores usually served a relatively small population, it made much more sense to do it this way instead of keeping clothing in stock. These 100% wool samples, stitched all together, made for a very cozy quilt topper. 


Wool suiting samples quilt


Many of the quilts speak to this legacy of thrift. Several quilts were made from sackcloth fabric. When food and farm supplies began being shipped in cotton sacks instead of barrels, women quickly realized they could use this new steady stream of cotton cloth to make towels and clothing and quilts. Manufacturers even designed colorful printed feed sacks to appeal to these canny women.


A star quilt made of hundreds of tiny diamonds


A few crazy quilts are also on display. Even though these look like they were made by the ultimate thrifter – unwilling to throw away even a corner of a piece of fabric – the trend actually started with the upper class. The small scraps of fabric are luxurious silks and velvets. This medley of fabrics would have been far out of reach for the woman who actually needed to create a blanket out of scraps. The result is beautiful and yes, well, crazy.


Thinking about this long history of women spending countless hours hand sewing is humbling. As the exhibit notes, these are women whose voices (and often stories) have been lost. Nevertheless, they created art and kept their children warm. This made me think of my mother, and the resourceful woman she was. She married young, and looked beautiful ion her wedding day. A quick succession of children followed, and my mother cut up that wedding dress to use as diapers.

There are so many women, even in our own families, whose story we don’t know. For the women who created these works of art, we have little clues or a version of their history.

I hope you get a chance to check out the exhibit. It runs until March of next year.