Who made this lace? That I bought in a two gallon Ziplock bag for the price of, not much. Who made these blocks? Who cut them apart from the larger quilt, and why?

These are unanswerable. If I’d bought these at an estate sale, perhaps I’d at least have a town of origin (maybe), a snippet of a story. But I didn’t, the pieces are disconnected from place, other than their Midwest origins.

The larger issue that I’m raising with this piece is – Who are all the women from history, and from the present, who we’re not hearing about.  The invisibility of women as makers, caregivers, providers of unseen, unpaid labor.

And this:

Doily with a quote on it by Elaine Luther, "I began to wonder..."

“I began to wonder…” vintage doily with Battenberg lace, printed with light reactive dye, mounted on fabric wrapped canvas. Copyright Elaine Luther 2023.

The Making Process

Who Was She Quilt Blocks art by Elaine Luther, 2024

Work in progress, found quilt blocks with letters spelling out “Who Was She,” Elaine Luther 2024.

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I use vintage linens as a stand in for undervalued women’s labor. Here these have a double meaning – who made these specific linens? And what was her life like? What were they for? Why was the lace border around the SHE quilt block never attached to its intended doily? I’m thinking about not only the craft that is undervalued, but the women’s lives that are undervalued.

Why aren’t our stories told?

The reason men seem...doily by Elaine Luther

“The reason that men seem more remarkable is because their stories are told,” vintage doily printed with light reactive dye, mounted on 12″ x 12″ fabric wrapped canvas. Copyright Elaine Luther 2023.

THIS.  This is one of the fundamental topics of my art these days.

So, on to the process. These starting points are called “found” objects, but really I drove 2 hours each way to go buy them at a sale where I knew I’d be likely to find such things. I had thought that I would overdye them, or print on them with Solar Fast.

Instead, this piece evolved.  I already had these vinyl iron-on letters in the studio, for another project, so I was able to make these pieces without delay.

Here they are with the lace added:

Who Was She Quilt Blocks art by Elaine Luther, 2024, with lace.

“Who Was She” Quilt Blocks, with lace, art by Elaine Luther, 2024.

The WHO one has a complete doily behind it.  It’s the pineapple pattern, this one was very popular and I have a number of them.  I’ve made Solar Fast prints of pineapple doilies before, so you may have seen that design.

There was a question mark, made of ribbon, but I accidentally sewed through it while I was adding the lace and it got big holes in it. I’ll remake the question mark.

How will these be displayed?  I love to pin or otherwise attach these textile works directly to gallery walls.  Not every gallery allows that, but it looks really cool and lets the pieces exist as their little selves, without any additional visual input that might come from being mounted on canvas or something.  The doilies shown above, I sewed those to fabric wrapped canvas for a solo show where the gallery had one of those hook and wire systems and the work had to be mounted on something and wired.

Someone in a group where I shared photos of this work just commented that they read it as, “Who She Was,” and I really like that ambiguity and flexibility.  That would be a reason to not put the question mark back on.

I’m currently also hard at work on a series of protest banners/quilts.  The quilt tops for 2 – maybe 3 – depending on how you define the series – are done.  So it’s really nice to have a project like this that’s faster and is done already!  (Except for the mounting hardware.)

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