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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Quilts and Quiltmaking in America

[Detail] 1994 Judges' Choice Winner; Susan's Fan.

Symbolism

The quilts in this collection afford an opportunity for students to learn about symbolism. Most of the Lands' End quilts are symbolic in some way, from their subject matter to their patterns, fabrics, and colors. Titles are often indicative of symbolic meaning, and the notes of some quilts such as these, will include the quilters' explanations of their symbolism. Searching on symbol locates only one quilt, so browsing the quilts and their notes is the best way to identify helpful quilts for this activity. After studying some examples, a class can have a discussion based on the following questions:

  • What ideas and feelings were the quilters trying to express in their symbolism?
  • What are the meanings of symbols based upon? Why, for example, would yellow symbolize age?
  • Where else do you find symbols in your daily life? In books, commercials, movies, music? Which one of these do you think is most like quilts?
  • In the special presentation, Speaking of Quilts: Voices from the Late Twentieth Century, the author writes of quilting itself as a symbol of ". . . what we value about ourselves and our national history." What does she mean by this?
  • What other things can quilting symbolize?
  • Are some of these meanings reflected in any of the Lands' End quilts?

Students can demonstrate what they've learned by creating a quilt or drawing of their own in which they use color, patterns, or objects to express certain ideas or feelings symbolically. Younger students can make self-portraits, while older students can tell a story or convey an event through a more sophisticated use of symbolism. Finally, students might enjoy reading about how quilt patterns may have been used to make secret, symbolic communications on the underground railroad in Hidden in Plain View by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard