Michigan Quilt Project
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International Textile Collection [click here to see sample]

Throughout history, piecing, appliquéing, and quilting techniques have been employed by individuals to construct and decorate textiles for both ceremonial and everyday uses. Michigan State University Museum's collections hold many historical and contemporary examples of textiles that incorporate these techniques. For instance, the MSUM holds a collection of over 100 Nigerian kente cloths, composed of pieced together woven strips. Other examples include Peruvian cuadros (pictorial appliqued scenes depicting political and labor struggles), Indian pieced cotton patchwork pillow covers (often embellished with mirrors and using star and block designs), intricately cut and appliquéd Panamanian molas, and a set of 19th-century Egyptian ceremonial tent panels that are appliquéd and decorated with calligraphic inscriptions.

Over the past twenty years special attention has been given to expanding the textile collection so that comparisons can be made between work produced in the Great Lakes region and other patchwork and appliqué traditions around the world. Among the most significant holdings is an extensive collection, begun in the late 1970s, of Laotian-Hmong materials. Hmong women historically began learning embroidery, reverse appliqué, batik, and other textile techniques as early as five years of age and their work is often complex in execution, design, and meaning. The museum's collection contains scores of items produced by Hmong in Laos, Thailand, and the United States for everyday as well as ceremonial use; included are bedspreads, wedding and funerary clothing, baby carriers and hats, and wall hangings. The accompanying research field notes and interviews with and photographs of makers establish this collection as a rich resource for research, educational, and exhibition use. Other collections of note are of African textiles, notably ones collected by anthropologists and art historians in the mid-to-late twentieth century. The museum has acquired quilts as well as quilted and patchwork textiles from China, Thailand, Laos, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Mali, Zimbabwe and from recent immigrants to the United States.

-- by Marsha MacDowell [excerpt from Marsha MacDowell, ed., Great Lakes, Great Quilts. Concord, California: C&T Publishing, 2001]


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