Quilting and Cultural Appropriation

I’ve been mulling this post over in my mind for ages and I’m still not 100% sure how to lay it out, but since I’ve been posting updates on my Indigo Pinwheels quilt which includes Japanese cottons as the main element I felt like it was timely.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about if it’s appropriate for me as a white woman to use fabrics which come from other cultures in my quilting. I know already that quilting has a problem with cultural appropriation – when I was looking, just as one of many examples, for a fabric with a skull print I kept being referred to fabrics with sugar skulls on them. There are already plenty of links which explain in detail why the Sugar Skull is culturally appropriative, especially used in this way – decorating a bolt of fabric, removed from its context, history, a time and place and with no acknowledgement of the history behind it. Personally, I’ve used recently some Japanese quilting cottons in my quilting, and a few months ago I visited Western Samoa and bought some lengths of fabric while I was there, including some Elei fabric (a style of printing traditionally used to decorate tapa cloth and more recently used on other fabrics) and some patterns which various people there told me are sometimes called Samoan but are more correctly identified as Hawaiian influenced.

DSCF9324

I think the main things I am considering are if there is a respectful way I can incorporate these fabrics into my work, or if it is inherently appropriative to use these fabrics from another culture in my sewing. I think the questions of Japanese and Samoan fabrics need to be considered separately. Among the things I want to think about (and I want to stress I am constantly growing and developing in my understanding, so if someone wants to correct me on this and has the energy to do it I would be only too grateful) are the relationship that my culture, as a white New Zealander has to the culture the fabrics come from, if the ways I am obtaining the fabrics materially benefit people from the culture they come from, crediting the origin of the fabrics appropriately and if they are being used in an appropriate way.

To be honest, I am more comfortable using Japanese cottons for a few reason: Japan has a history of quilting – including Sashiko quilting (a form of stitching reminiscent of many contemporary Japanese quilting cotton patterns), so I feel as though using the cottons in this way is appropriate to their intended and historical use. Also, New Zealand’s relationship with Japan doesn’t have the same colonialism inherent in our relationship with Western Samoa. Also, when I buy my Japanese cottons I try to buy them from stores either based in Japan, or owned by people with Japanese heritage so the proceeds from the sale of them are going to people with some relationship to the history of the designs. It doesn’t, and I’m aware this is a fairly nebulous way of putting it, feel appropriative to use the fabrics in this way because it is aligned with the use for which they were produced and my buying them feeds back into the economy of Japan.

DSCF9321

I’m more conflicted about using fabrics from Samoa. To start with, as far as I have been able to tell from my research, Western Samoa doesn’t have a quilting culture – American Samoa has some, largely introduced by missionaries. So the fabrics I have wouldn’t have been created with that end use in mind – I think that as uses  go quilting is fairly benign, but I would still prefer to use fabrics in a way aligned with their intended use. Also, Samoa has a history of being subjugated by New Zealand and I’m very aware of this imbalance of power when I consider if I have a right to use Samoan fabrics in my quilts. Samoa has only been independent from New Zealand since 1962, and New Zealand’s history with Samoa contains incidents like the Black Saturday shootings and the grossly racist Dawn Raids. It feels a lot more like the classic definition of appropriation – co-opting an attractive part of a culture without having to deal with the negative parts of having that identity (the poorer education and health outcomes Pasifika people experience in New Zealand because of systemic racism). For now, I’m keeping the fabrics in my stash because I don’t want to discard them and feel wasteful. One thing I am considering doing in the future is making a quilt from some of them and donating some of the proceeds from it to a Pasifika Womens Refuge or advocacy group.

DSCF9320

Pinwheels and French Braids

I’ve spent the last week working on some WIPs, trying to get them knocked out before January is gone – now I’m in my new studio I have one large plastic box which I’m keeping WIPs in and attempting to limit myself to only as many as will fit comfortably in it. So far it’s a very effective system – my desire to always be working on something new has been beaten out by my desire to keep things pleasingly streamlined and tidy.

I’ve finally finally finished the poinsetta blocks from the Fair Isle Quilt:

DSCF9303

 

DSCF9326

I figure if I can knock out one of the blocks each month it should be ready in plenty of time for next Christmas.

I also trimmed all of the Indigo Pinwheel blocks, and plotted out a layout for the quilt top. I tried to keep some semblance of order between predominantly light fabrics and predominantly dark.

DSCF9307

DSCF9309

It is so nice having a decent amount of floor space to use to design quilt tops – before I was always stuck trying to wedge things into my too-small lounge room floor. I’ve sewn together the top, and tomorrow’s task is to suss out an appropriate backing and binding fabric.

Here’s Bernie’s audition photo for sad etsy boyfriends:

DSCF9318

While sifting through the WIP box I also found this chevron quilt top I started years ago (literally years ago) and decided to have a go at finishing it up. I’m not suuuuuper in love with the colours any more, but I don’t want half completed projects languishing in my stash much longer – I also have all the fabric already cut and it seems a waste not to finish it up. I saw someone on Pinterest refer to this pattern as a ‘french braid’ and I kind of really dig that.

French braid chevron green and brown

I also threw together a few more of these coasters using leftover squares from the chevron quilt. Greens! Triangles! Binding which would be easier to sew with a walking foot!

DSCF9310

Speaking of my fabric stash though, I added some new bits and bobs to it the other day. I ordered a bunch of stuff off local Trademe seller which turned up cutely packaged.

DSCF9304

DSCF9306

I also have a copy of Rotary Cutting Revolution: New One-Step Cutting, 8 Quilt Blocks on its way to me in the post which I’m quite excited about. I thought about grabbing a Kindle copy, but decided on balance I’d rather have a physical copy to put in front of me while I work. Hopefully it will have arrived by the time I write my next post and I’ll be able to let you know my first impressions!

Bigmouth Strikes Again (Best Laid Plans)

Sooooo… Christmas has come and gone and my Fair Isle Quilt is, sadly, not yet complete. I hold out hope it’ll be done for Christmas 2015. Ultimately the busyness of December did me in – I started my PhD properly this month and travelled both for work and for the holidays. However! Have some progress photos. It is coming together (I’ve sewn together the Poinsetta blocks since these were taken.)

Fair isle aerial view

 

Fair isle squaring up

Fair isle offcuts

So much chain piecing. So much squaring up. It was the squaring which took a lot longer than I had anticipated, I think. I have another 11 months to get it complete – or I could go for a midwinter Christmas I suppose!

BUT! I did complete two quilts in December, which isn’t bad going for only having been at home two weeks out of four. I finished up the matching set of chevron baby quilts, in time to gift them before Christmas. I’m supremely happy with how they turned out. The colours were lovely and bright, and the simple straight line quilting made them very soft – I didn’t quilt them particularly densely so they are nice and snuggly.

Blues full shot

Blues mid shot

Blues front back far

Blues up close

Yellow full

Yellow midshot

Yellow up close

Front back far yellow

Front back close yellow

Folded stacked close

I got a great deal on some Warm and White Cotton Batting which I wound up using in this quilt, rather than the bamboo batting I usually use. It’s a lot lighter – probably more suited for summer quilts, or quilts for warmer climates. I don’t know if I’ll buy it again because I like a certain degree of floofiness in my quilts, although it does make quilting sizable quilts on my small sewing machine a lot easier. Sadly the straight stitch machine is still a far off dream so I need to take that into account when picking out battings. I’m also getting better at mitred corners!

The quilt got the seal of approval from the wee babe it was gifted to and I got the world’s cutest thank you card from him, written with some help from his Mum.

Since it’s the 1st of January and all I figured I might make a little list of things to finish off and things I hope to start. Among my Christmas gifts was a lovely voucher for Spotlight so I might be making a trip there soon but I’m trying to stay disciplined and not start too many more things before finishing other stuff.

WIPs to finish:

1. Indigo Pinwheels. All the blocks are sewn and pressed, I just need to put the quilt top together, baste and quilt it.
2. Fair Isle Quilt.
3. More coasters to use up my scraps.

To sew/knit:

1. A black cable knit scarf
2. A large Picnic Plaid Quilt – since I’m on a roll with chain piecing.
3. A two-colour pineapple quilt, maybe in vibrant bold prints rather than solids?
4. I mentioned to my friend Alice a little while ago that I could have a hoon at making a quilt top modelled after the Holy Diver album cover. I think I might have my work cut out for me with that one, but it seems like a fun challenge.