Well into the twentieth century, rural women produced most of the textiles used in their homes. Their quilts and coverlets are now prized by collectors for their looks, but what do they mean? And what about the other textiles: the clothing and underwear, the mittens, socks, hats, sheets, towels, curtains, and rugs? In “Material Remains,” participants will build an understanding about rural women’s lives through their material culture. Northern New York serves as the case study.
Participants will examine and discuss the “material remains” of women’s domestic lives: a quilt, a comforter, a woven coverlet, mittens, fancy work, and a towel. Photographs, paintings, sketches, and the words of contemporary sources will help give context to the objects and give rise to deeper questions. What does the pattern of hand sewing and machine sewing in a quilt suggest about the place quiltmaking occupied in a woman’s life? What can we tell about immigration patterns from mittens knit in the Adirondacks?
Self-expression has always been a reason for women to produce textiles. Today, although most women can choose to sew or knit, they do so for reasons that would be recognized by their foremothers: to be in fashion, to commemorate, to express political beliefs, to mourn, to express their love or their gentility. Some things have changed, though. Few people today make sheets and towels or remake or recycle clothing; in quiltmaking the focus is often on design of the top rather than the whole piece. The reasons for these changes can lead us to a greater understanding of the daily lives of women in the past, as well as the fundamental changes that have affected women’s lives over the past couple generations.