Quilts That Helped Us Heal:
The Briscoe Center’s Reflections on 9/11 Quilt Collection
August 29, 2011
On this tenth anniversary of 9/11, the Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin, presents quilts from its Reflections on 9/11 Quilt Collection. These quilts began as 139 blocks made by quilters in Japan immediately after 9/11. Quilt makers from the San Antonio area finished them into 40 quilts.
This project began to coalesce at the 2001 International Quilt Festival in Houston, only weeks after September 11, when Festival volunteers Marty Kishiro of Osaka, Japan, and Barbara Gilstad of San Antonio discussed the recent heartrending events. Even before Festival, Marty had rallied quilt makers in Japan to make ten-inch quilt blocks expressing condolence and support; by October he had received 139 blocks. Shortly after Festival, Marty asked Barbara if she could find quilt makers who would turn the blocks into finished quilts. As Barbara later recalled, "Without even thinking I said 'Yes'; I couldn’t say 'No.'"
Barbara enlisted the help of Ruth Felty, a fellow member of the Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild, and together they assembled 47 area quilt makers. Each quilter selected one or more blocks and was responsible for layout, fabrics, and techniques. By late 2004, the 139 quilt blocks had become 40 finished quilts.
This three-year collaborative project was a healing experience for many of its participants. The designs and messages printed, stitched, or embroidered on some of the blocks express hope, caring, and sympathy—hearts, a rainbow, or a dove grace quilt blocks next to the words "love," "freedom," and "peace."
For the Texas quilt makers, turning these blocks into quilts became a way to express their feelings after 9/11. These participants recorded what working on the project meant to them. Their sentiments—the core of the labels for each of the quilts displayed here—capture the healing power of this collaborative quilt-making project.
The Reflections on 9/11 Quilt Collection is now part of the Briscoe Center’s Winedale Quilt Collection, where it is being preserved and made available for research. All of the collection’s quilts may be viewed online at the Briscoe Center’s website.