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March 01, 2022

The Powerful Tradition of Quilting

Throughout the month of February, Black History Month, Friends of the Children—Portland (FriendsPDX) hosted relevant and culturally responsive programming for our community. A couple of our professional mentors, who we call Friends, helped educate our community about the importance of quilting and its role in the Black and African American community. This craft is a long-held tradition in sharing stories, resilience, and peoples’ legacies. Together, FriendsPDX put together blocks for a community quilt.

Culture can be kept alive in a variety of ways like spiritual practices, music, dance, food, spoken word, storytelling, and quilting is yet another way history and legacy can be passed down through generations. It is important to remember, it was illegal for enslaved humans to learn to read or write. Instead, they leaned on alternative ways to tell the story of their journey through enslavement. It is through creativity and the arts that many of those stories could be held onto and retold even far away from their homelands. The art form is deeply historic and significant to the Black and African American community. The craft of weaving fabrics together was a skill that survived the Middle Passage to become not only a valuable trade but also a way to preserve their identity and ties to their community.

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Each square comes from the clothing scraps of a family member and tells the story of the legacy of an individual. To bring this personal note into our community quilt, youth were encouraged to bring their own fabrics from old clothing scraps or materials from home. This way, the quilt components hold the stories of our community and are woven together to create the FriendsPDX Legacy. In creating this tangible, visual reminder we create a "blanket" of hope with stories of perseverance, self-determination, self-management, growth mindset. Quilting also offers a chance for people to find their spark, build positive relationships, and problem solve.

During the quilting event, participants contributed individual squares that reflect personalities, sparks, creativity, and community. In total, we have 31 squares to start our community quilt. Friends and staff members made this project possible by taking intentional steps to create a physical representation of belonging. One Friend shared that they were recharged by the energy from the evening. “Witnessing youth and mentors learning about each other, asking questions, and problem-solving. Additionally, quilting videos from a series on Crafting in America provided everyone a moment to step back from what they were making and appreciate the craft itself.”

Folks had time for self-introspection and reconnection with each other and three more sewing projects were requested by youth! Our Art and Science room at Rockwood provides youth with a comfortable space to do these types of meaningful activities. Reflecting on Black History Month, we commit to continuing to make space for Black History. It’s more than a month. Black History is American history. For those who want a little more history on how enslaved women and men played crucial roles encoding escape routes into quilts to navigate during the Underground Railroad check out this book: Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad by Jaqueline L. Tobin.

A big shoutout to our Black History Committee for supporting this event and others that were held during Black History Month.