Stand Up, Speak Out

Art quilt by Alilison Wilbur with traditional shhofly blocks on the tops and bottom with embroidered quote. The center third of the quilt is a collage of the embroidered figure of a woman in quaker dress, a painting of the Mass State house a stitched quote, and other elements

Stand Up, Speak Out was created for the exhibit Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes, Women’s Rights which is on display at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas from September 2022 to April 2023. This quilt honors sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimke who were active members of the abolition movement and became some of the first women to write and speak publicly in support of women’s rights. 

Antique Shoofly Quilt blocks from the 1860s. The patchwork block are in cream fabric and earth toned fabrics and are hand pieced.
Antique quilt block drying on a wooden rack after being washed.
Antique shoofly quilt block with words embroidered by hand in black thread. The words read "All I ask"

As coordinator for the art quilts which would be in this exhibit, I let the invited artists work with the exhibit curator, Allida Black, to choose the subjects of their quilts. When Allida and I looked at the timeline of the history of women’s votes and women’s rights, it was clear that Sarah and Angelina Grimke were foundational to this history. I read Lift Up Thy Voice by Mark Perry and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd to learn more about these two remarkable sisters. What struck me most was how bold their thinking was for the mid 1800s. I decided I wanted to set the quilt about them in the era when they were alive. I was speaking with my friend Mary Kerr, who does amazing work with antique blocks, and she generously offered a set of Shoofly blocks from the 1860s. I was on my way!

Shoofly quilts blocks with words embroidered in black on the cream spaces. The words read, "I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of my brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us..."

Because signature quilts were a widely used fund raising tool in this time, I embroidered a quote from Sarah Grimke on the white spaces in the quilt, in signature quilt style. I wanted the words to feel like they were handwritten over 150 years ago. “I surrender not our claim for equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.”

The shoofly blocks form the top and bottom sections of the quilt which is actually made in three parts. I hand quilted the blocks, all the while thinking of the contrast between how most women in the 1800s spent their time attending to domestic tasks, and the courageous actions and words of these two amazing sisters.

Antique quilt blocks in a wooden quilting hoop. The blocks are shoofly blocks and they have words hand embroidered on them.
Fabric with hand embroidered figure of a woman in quaker dress from the 1800s. Some of the figure is drawn in blue water erase marker and a needle and thread are stuck in the cloth.

I next began work on the center panel, which features Angelina. I drew a simple outline of a woman in quaker dress. I chose not to use images from two wood block prints made during the sisters lifetime as to me it seemed like they intentionally were made to look masculine, one of the common tactics for belittling women who called for the right for women’s suffrage. The blue ink is water erasable and so washed out once the stitching was complete.

The rest of the center panel is a collage of many elements including a painting of the Massachusetts Statehouse where Angelina became the first woman to speak before a legislative body. I also included quote from Angelina, bits of antique lace and buttons and other elements to help place them in the 1800s. 

Machine quilted quote, "We are citizens of this republic and as such our honor, happiness and well being are bound up in its politics, government and laws." Angelina Grimke, 1838.
Collage of quilt elements in antique style with lace, buttons, embroidery and lettering.

The quilt is now assembled and has been hanging in the exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Center since September. On December 2 there will be a 1 day summit with women leaders from around the globe. The summit will be live streamed and you can watch the proceeding online.

Attending the reception and summit will be amazing. One of the great joys of coordinating the art quilts for the exhibit was being able to choose quilt artists I have followed and admired for years and who have dedicated their art and voices to making the world a better place.  The exhibit will be on display until April 2023, I hope you get a chance to see it.

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