Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


Introduction During the American Civil War, 1861-1865, women from the northern states made at least 250,000 quilts to supply bedding to the Union Army in the field and in military hospitals through the aegis of the U. S. Sanitary Commission. Southern women carried on similar types of relief work for the Confederate Army, though with far fewer resources to draw upon. Hundreds of red and white quilts were made as fundraisers for the American Red Cross during the First World War. And Mennonite and Mormon women from Canada and the U.S. made and shipped thousands of quilts in a massive act of relief to the war-ravaged European continent following World War II. Women of varying political viewpoints made quilts as expressions of support and protest during Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s.1 Now, during the Unites States government’s “War on Terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are making quilts for wounded soldiers, children whose parents are deployed, and the families of those who died in the wars. The numbers of quilts made in these efforts are significant. Based on media reports and the data posted on quilt projects’ Internet sites, over 27,000 quilts have been made and given since early 2003. This total does not include the efforts of smaller local groups and individuals that have not gathered media attention or promoted their efforts.

According to the New York Times, as of September 22, 2008, 4,148 American service-members have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, (the Iraq War) and 587 in Operation Enduring Freedom (the Afghanistan War), making a total of 4,735 soldiers killed in action. There are three nationwide grassroots quiltmaking projects that each endeavor to make a quilt for the family of these soldiers. This means that each family should receive at least three quilts. At present, over 8,000 quilts have been presented. When beginning my research on these three projects, I found myself interested in what motivated contemporary wartime quiltmakers to take on these commitments. Specifically I was interested in what made it meaningful to them and what meanings did the quilts have? To gain insight into these and other questions, I conducted an oral history project with eleven individuals—ten women and one man—each involved in one of the projects. Represented in this group of interviewees are the founders of each project—Jan Lang of Marine Comfort Quilts (MCQ), Jessica Porter of Operation Homefront Quilts (OHQ), and Donald Beld of Home of the Brave Quilt Project (HBQP)—and eight others who are each deeply involved in one of the projects.