|Story Quilt sewn by Harriet Powers, 1837-1910|
On Display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
I let go of my formerly voracious appetite for books some years ago (too many non-fiction studies got in the way of reading for the sheer pleasure of it, I fear!). One of the wonderful aspects of going through a drop in physical energy this past year has been a return of that appetite, and the plethora of excellent literary novels (my favorite genre) that's built up during my absence from fiction will hopefully sate me for some time to come!
I just finished the last page of "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd, and I'm compelled to write about it here for a couple of reasons. Fine hand sewing, millinery, and most of all quilt-making threads its way throughout the novel, and a couple of the quilts are actually major characters in the story. All of them were sewn by slaves in the 1800's.
Which leads to the other reason I want to encourage the reading of this book. It's an important book in that it tells the (thickly fictionalized) story of two of most famous American woman that you may have never heard of, Sarah and Angelina Grimké. They were well known (either deeply respected or despised) throughout the States in the late 1830's as leading and vocal abolitionists and women's rights advocates. Born into an upper class family of slave owners in Charleston, the sisters managed to find enemies in many areas of society, religion, and even in the Northern states, with their beliefs that women and slaves were people too, who deserved equality with white men. (Have we come a long way yet, baby?)
The story is based on numerous factual events, with Kidd creating her story by fleshing out the personal lives and thoughts of Sarah and the slave girl she was given by her parents when she turned 11. There were only a few written known facts about Handful (the slave girl's) life, so her story is nearly all made up by Kidd, but the intertwining of the 2 girls' stories, along with Sarah's sister and other important people in their lives, makes this a book that anyone with even a remote interest in American history and some of the events and attitudes leading up to the Civil War would be well served by reading this book.
I appreciate the 'Author's Note' at the end, wherein Kidd differentiates the factual from what she made up. But then, I'm the sort of person whose first action after seeing a biographical movie is to look up what really happened.
Kidd states that one of the quilts in her story was based on the "story quilts" of Harriet Powers. There are 2 surviving quilts of Powers', the above pictured quilt in Boston, and the following quilt, apparently not currently on display, but it lives at the National Museum of American History
|The Sisters Grimké |
Angelina on the left, Sarah on the right
If you've read the book, let me know what you think - if you haven't, what are you waiting for? ;-) By the way, for other readers (I know there are a lot of you in the sewing world!), Beth of Sunnygal Studios wrote a post recently asking for book recommendations - if you're interested, check out the responses - lots of good suggestions! One of the fun followups to this is that we both happened to be at a sewing group meeting at the Berkeley Library shortly after her post, and after the sewing meeting, several of us hung out and talked about...no, not more sewing...books!
For now, here are a few more modern, extraordinary quilts for your viewing pleasure:
Midnight in the Garden of Iris and Cats
|Ellen Mashburn Place|
|Sharon V. Rotz|
We See They See
Although I'm not a quilter, I have participated in a couple of group projects - a kayaking themed quilt with a group of fellow yakkers (back in the day....), and a beautiful square honoring a friend for the AIDS Quilt Project. Both projects were fabulously memorable!
If anyone knows of a local display of beautiful quilts, please let me know - I'm definitely up for some ooohing and aaahing over them!