generous threads highlights the beauty of Native quilts
For generations, Native American quilts have represented Indigenous
In the same way that our grandmothers grandmothers figured
out how to feed the young ones with the scant provisions that the
Army gave out, the wise ones figured out how to take scraps of fabric
and turn them into quilted blankets that would comfort loved ones
on cold nights.
The Army handed out blankets that poisoned people with smallpox;
the grandmothers hand-stitched quilted blankets that represented
comfort and love. The federal government tried to kill the
Indian, save the man. The grandmothers incorporated patterns
and symbols into their quilts that told the stories of their people
and their cultures.
A tribal person said the other day, When you think
back on it, our relationship to blankets is a very painful thing
because of the smallpox that was [introduced through] blankets way
back in the day, said Colette Keith, Lakota, coordinator
of Northwest Indian Colleges exhibit, Humble Stitches,
Generous Threads | Quilts from Indian Country.
Keith, Lakota, talks about Seminole quilt designs with guests
at the exhibit, Humble Stitches, Generous Threads |
Quilts from Indian Country, at the Tulalip Tribes' Administration
Building. (Photo by Richard Walker)
The person told Keith, Now, weve come to the point
where weve reconciled that a [blanket] can be to honor and
comfort, as opposed to trying to eradicate our people.
Keith told Indian Country Today, I thought, wow, I
never really thought about it that way. Thats beautiful. Quilting
is a form of healing.
needs sparkle is embroidered on the back of Lakota quilter
Colette Keiths jacket. She sometimes uses iridescent
thread to add sparkle to her quilts.
Today, quilts are made to be given at baby showers, naming ceremonies,
weddings and memorials. Tulalip women have long made quilts to honor
veterans. And at Keiths Cheyenne River Reservation, I
have gone to funerals where literally more than a hundred star quilts
are given away, she said.
Humble Stitches, Generous Threads was a showcase of
Native resilience, as well as mastery of a textile art. The exhibit
took place Feb. 11-13 in the Tulalip Tribes Administration Building,
on the Tulalip Reservation about 40 miles north of Seattle. More
than 30 quilts by Native and non-Native quilters were exhibited.
Keith said she believed it was the first Native quilt show since
the University of New Mexico presented one 20 years ago.
Many of the Native quilters represented in Humble Stitches,
Generous Threads were or are quilting students at Northwest
Indian Colleges Tulalip campus.
Keith, Lakota, talks with visitors to Humble Stitches,
Generous Threads | Quilts from Indian Country, at the
Tulalip Tribes Administration Building. Behind her is an elaborate
quilt by Luella Stevens, Athabascan. (Photo by Richard Walker)
The exhibit was a hit: Before the exhibit was over, there were
plans for another one next year in a large ballroom at the Tulalip
Casino Resort Hotel, with the support of the Northwest Indian College
Linda Willup, a teacher at the Northwest Indian College campus
on the Swinomish Reservation, said her campus will start a sewing
class in spring quarter. Now that weve come here today,
were looking at starting with a simple quilt project.
Each quilt in the exhibit was amazing in its detail and intricacy
of hand and machine stitching. From west to east, there were Coast
Salish totems, Hopi pinwheels, Plains star blocks, Northeast Woodland
ribbon floral patterns, and Seminole patchwork diamond borders.
Reverie of Totems by the Washington Stars Quilt Guild
of Olympia featured 10 blocks of Coast Salish figures killer
whale, wolf, heron, salmon and bear, among them around a
large thunderbird in the center. The quilt is not for snuggling
up in, Keith said; its a museum-quality display piece on loan
to the exhibit but available for purchase for $6,500.
of Totems by the Washington Stars Quilt Guild of Olympia
featured 10 blocks of Coast Salish figures killer whale,
wolf, heron, salmon and bear, among them around a large
thunderbird in the center.
Lindsey Crofoot, Tlingit/Colville, teaches math and natural sciences
at Northwest Indian College and is working on her graduate degree
in natural resources at University of Idaho. She sews regalia and
started quilting three years ago, following in the footsteps of
an auntie who is a master quilter.
Crofoot has since finished eight quilts.
For her, quilting is a time that just feels really good because,
you know, youre putting your hands to work, she said.
Ive only ever given my work away, so it feels good to
be making something that you can give to someone else and make them
feel good, make them feel comforted.
Like many pastimes in Indian Country, quilting is often a social
activity. Some quilts, like Reverie of Totems, are a
team project. And on some quilts, others step in to help the artist
finish the journey.
Oh My Stars, a star quilt, was finished by Crofoot
and (NWIC) Northwest Indian College quilting students, completing
a project started by Sandra Swanson, Tulalip. It consists of formatted
pieces and fabric donated to the class by Swanson. We finished
them out and gave them new life and this is what happened,
Crofoot said. When I saw this beautiful star quilt had been
started but not finished, I wanted to put my hands to work and get
Another quilt finished in this fashion was one by design artist
Mark Anthony Jacobson, Ojibway/Swedish. The quilt is comprised of
blocks featuring Ojibwe-influenced wildlife images and was pieced
and sewn by Lisa Powers, Tulalip, and hand quilted by Keith.
Cara Jo Retasket, Yakama, was a star of the show. The 11-year-old
quilter wasnt present on the day of this writing, but people
were talking about how impressed they were with her interview on
a television news program a day or two earlier.
On that program, Cara told Margaret Larson of KING 5s New
Day Northwest, I started quilting when I was 8. The first
one I made I gave to my aunt to honor and comfort her because she
had breast cancer.
Caras latest quilt, Pink Unicorns, was shown
on the program and in the Humble Stitches exhibit. It
is a star quilt with deep greens, blues and browns all earthy
colors and has a purple border. It features, as the name
suggests, pink unicorns and rainbows on diamond squares within the
star. The quilt reflects, she said, My love of unicorns.
She used purple for the border because its her favorite color.
Displayed near her quilt was her grandmother Josephine Perrondeaus
star quilt, Night Sky. Perrondeau, Shuswap First Nation,
has taught quilting at Northwest Indian College for 12 years. The
star in her quilt is a vibrant red, white and black on a gray background
and bordered by a red, white and black diamond pattern.
Perrondeaus star quilt, Night Sky.
Amarine, by Northwest Indian College quilting instructor
Deb Hanson, featured an underwater scene with a mermaid with sea
life in her hair and around her. Hanson, who is of Swedish ancestry,
used a luminescent thread for effect. More than one observer was
struck by the quilts detail and commented that each time one
looked at the quilt, a previously unnoticed detail was seen: a seal
peeking over the mermaids tail, a seahorse in her hair, an
actual sea shell sewn into the quilt, and uplifting quotes sewn
into the border to include, You are an original, Live
in the now, and Holding your hand over the rainbow.
by Deb Hanson, a quilting instructor at Northwest Indian College,
is of a mermaid in an underwater scene. Hanson, of Scandinavian
ancestry, is a fourth-generation quilter. (Photo by Richard
An untitled quilt by honored featured quilter Luella Stevens, Athabascan,
was equally elaborate.
It started as a medallion quilt, then she incorporated fabrics
with small motifs that had been contributed by friends and quilting
class members. It evolved into a quilt representing the artists
love of trees, trains, birds, bears, history, landmarks, and national
Other Native quilts in the exhibit included Blue Sky Burst,
by prolific star quilter Ella Trudell, Santee Sioux; Dragonfly,
a colorful patchwork quilt by Steph Cultee, Nooksack; and the Coast
Salish-inspired Heron at Tulalip and Swimming
Upstream by Keith.
Sky Burst, by prolific star quilter Ella Trudell, Santee
a colorful patchwork quilt by Steph Cultee, Nooksack
Salish-inspired Heron at Tulalip by Colette Keith,
Upstream" by Collette Keith.
Others carrying on the tradition of Native quilting at Tulalip include
Misty Flores, Tulalip; Bonnie Follestad, Tulalip; Sherry Patricia
Michell, Scowlitz; and Denise Gail Mitchell, Tulalip.
The Native American quilt has evolved into a unique art form that
represents the diversity and vibrancy of Indian Country, as well
as resilience, tradition and sovereignty.
We have people who ask, Can you sell this?
Keith said. We look at each other in our quilt room, and go,
What would you charge for this? Youve worked on this
for months. Its kind of priceless.
as One People - Tulalip Administration Building
The administration building consolidates 21 departments and services
that were previously distributed across the reservation. For the
first time, the tribe has a single building housing tribal services,
council and administration.