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International Woman's Day & National Quilting Day

Posted by James Wolfensberger on

MIDSUMMER EVENING QUILTING BEE IN CENTRAL PARKA quilting bee in Central Park, NY, photographed by Suzanne Szasz.

It seems somewhat fitting that International Women's Day occurs during what many think of as National Quilting Month. The third Saturday of each March is commonly observed in the industry as National Quilting Day. For 2017, this falls on March 18 - ten days after International Women's Day.

We know from research data that dedicated quilters in America are overwhelmingly women, and for anyone active in the quilting community the mere powers of observation support this. Quilt guilds, classes, online communities, and quilting prize winners are certainly dominated by women, in spite of the occasional male talent and perhaps an always growing interest among men.

The Connection

I would offer that there is a reasonable connection between International Women's Day (IWD) and National Quilting Day (NQD). The modern celebration of a craft and art form dominated by woman certainly owes part of its existence to a larger women's movement that has taken place over the past 100+ years.

Quilting has held on and grown into a more than $3 billion industry in spite of the decline in domestic sewing since the 1970s. Today, with greater respect and emphasis on women's roles, we can better appreciate both the domestic and artful skills of quilters in the face of demanding lifestyles that frankly don't "require" us to continue quilting. A blanket should not be confused with a quilt, but a cheap Walmart blanket can indeed keep us warm or adorn our sofa, it just lacks pretty much everything that makes a quilt something very special. We should pause to thank the stewards and practitioners of this timeless craft. As a quilter, you help to preserve the history and dignity of this special type of design and sewing, both practical and ornate. We bear in mind, for example, the critical purpose of quilting in bygone eras, before mass-produced fabric goods. Quilting during the American Civil War and days of pioneering are reminders of the contribution of quilters to our own well-being during significant national hardship. How many handmade quilts have protected our ancestors against the cold, against even illness or death, long before inexpensive machine-fabricated blankets became the norm?

In the photo below from the Library of Congress, a woman displays a quilt made from tobacco sacks. Imagine how pleased and fortunate her family, or a gift recipient, was to remain warm at night, thanks to this quilter's ability, ingenuity, and effort.

Tobacco Sack Quilt

International Women's Day - A (Very) Brief History

The earliest Women's Day observance was organized by the Socialist Party of America in February 1909 in New York in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker's Union. Numerous events of the early 1900s - strikes, labor demonstrations, suffragette marches, and women's conferences - led to greater awareness and acceptance of an international women's movement.

Above we see a women's demonstration from March 8, 1917, in Petrograd, Russia. The day was declared a national holiday in Soviet Russia. The socialist movement and communist countries primarily celebrated the holiday until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations during International Women's Year. Since 1975, International Women's Day has been celebrated on March 8. The UN also went so far as to declare 1976 to 1985 as the United Nations Decade for Women.

In past years, IWD themes have involved many concepts including ending violence, decision-making, managing conflict, empowering rural women, and others.

The 2017 International Women's Day theme, guided by the United Nations, is "Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030." Corporate interests supporting IWD have branded this year's theme as #BeBoldForChange, with asking that we "call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world - a more gender inclusive world."

National Quilting Day

Previously heralded by the disbanded National Quilting Association, National Quilting Day is now coordinated by the non-profit Quilt Alliance. However, like any proclaimed "holiday" or day of observance, our "Quilting Month" and "Quilting Day" now belong to the community of quilters.

It began in 1989 when the Kentucky Heritage Quilt Society organized a “Quilters’ Day Out” on the third Saturday of March. The concept was embraced by the National Quilting Association in 1991, and association officers voted to organize the concept on a national level.

From the Quilt Alliance website:

The first National Quilting Day was observed in 1992 and since then it has grown into a global celebration for all quiltmakers and quilt lovers. Helen Storbeck, one of the founders of National Quilting Day, wrote in The Quilting Quarterly, “Groups of quilters were encouraged to hold special events, publishers and shop owners were invited to sponsor promotions especially for quilters and it quickly became a grassroots endeavor with quilters in every part of the country participating. In the first year of National Quilting Day, quilters in other countries asked to participate. They were welcomed with open arms. As our feelings of a community network has evolved to include a world community, it is only appropriate that quilters and quilt lovers everywhere unite to give recognition to the special art form.”

Celebrate in March - How?

Often these holidays and annual observations slip past us with just a casual acknowledgement. We might know that we're celebrating International Women's Day and National Quilting Day within March, but what will we actually do that might be any different from the other eleven months of the year? My wife and my daughter are the family quilters. I don't quilt myself, although I do help to run our businesses related to quilting. In my role, it's relatively easy to write an article like this to draw attention to these special days, or to mention their relevance to a friend in passing - but what else can I do to help give this month real meaning on a personal level? Meanwhile, my wife Brenda (consumed with two professional careers and family responsibilities such as Quilter's Stash Box, our two young sons, two older children and two grandchildren) has barely managed to fit quilting into her schedule in recent months. I just decided that my job is to make sure that this month, more than ever, she will get some seriously-deserved time alone with her sewing machine.

How will you observe the special days this month dedicated to women and quilting?

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