Curator's Choice Gallery

Quilting with a Cause: New South Florida Museum Exhibit Showcases Quilts as Social Expression During Women’s History Month

Quilting became a popular activity in the late 1800s after industrialization of the textile industry made cotton and other fabrics readily available and more affordable. 

But did you know that quilting was also a key form of social expression for women who had few other ways to convey their thoughts and beliefs? A new exhibit at the South Florida Museum opening this month to commemorate Women’s History Month explores how quilting runs through the fabric of life in America.

Quilting with a Cause really tells the story of how women came together to express themselves socially and artistically,” said Sara Blackwelder, exhibits and collections specialist at the Museum. “They used quilts to commemorate important life events like weddings and funerals and even used them to showcase political causes.”

The new exhibit, which will be open from Saturday, March 11 through Sunday, July 30, 2017 and is included in the cost of Museum admission, showcases quilts from the South Florida Museum’s collection and features quilts that showcase a variety of styles as well as lifetime milestones. The exhibit also explains aspects of early quilting, including how quilters used plant materials to make fabric dyes, as well as quilting styles, the intricate needlework used in quilting and how quilts were used to celebrate causes like civil rights in the 1960s and raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic beginning in the late 1980s.

Quilting today remains a popular form of creative activity — a 2014 survey by Quilts Inc. showed that there are 16 million active quilters in the U.S. There are also plenty of active quilting guilds in Florida, including more than a dozen groups along the Southwest Florida coast in Tampa, Clearwater, Brandon, Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Murdoch, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda and Fort Myers.

“The handwork in these beautiful quilts is just mind-blowing to see,” said Blackwelder, who curated the exhibit with support from Selby Gardens, the Manatee County Library System, the Manatee Village Historical Park and the Palmetto Historical Park. “These quilts really tell the interesting story of women and our history — something we very much wanted to showcase during March and Women’s History Month.”

Included in Museum General Admission through July 30, 2017.