Quilts and Michigan American Indian communities

Quilting has been used as a method of self-healing, expression and community building in Tribal communities since the early 19th century

The art of quilting has been used as a method of self-healing, expression and community building in Tribal communities since the early 19th century for most of America. During early 19th century, quilts were being used as bedcovers, blankets, for packing and many other reasons. American patchwork was perhaps the most elaborate in history, with several thousand documented block patterns in addition to superb trapunto, applique and "crazy patchwork" (inspired by Japanese yosegire work). Michigan Tribal communities began using various quilting methods, materials and supplies as they were steadily introduced and influenced by European textiles.

If you were to explore the various types of photos from the early 1900’s you will often see American Indians from different tribes donning quilts, or they were hanging up in the background being used for household activities. Quilt making was incorporated into already established traditional arts of pottery, basket making and quill work. According to Marsha MacDowell, Curator of Folks Arts at the Michigan State University museum, Michigan Tribal Nations have been using quilts as bedcovers, fundraisers, gifts and a means of supplemental income.

However, it is important to understand that quilts of many different designs and techniques are also used in various traditional ceremonies in Tribal communities, such as naming ceremonies, give aways and other community events. You may see a group of men or women gather at a person’s home to work on a quilt for a person, be it a family member or a friend, who may be ill. Once the quilt is complete it may be gifted to encourage healing or demonstrate support for that person. Perhaps a person would be asked to make a quilt to help support a person who may be going through a particular ceremony or for a new born baby to welcome them to the community. Often times you will see a tribal community gather to make quilts for foster children, another tribe who needs blankets or for a raffle to support travel to a conference. There are also other opportunities from a community perspective to join in a broader cause such as the American Indian Cancer Survivors.

There are many reasons for a person to make or request a quilt; be it for health, ceremony, to practice their craft or for community support. For whatever the reason, quilts have been a very integral part of our tribal communities balance because they contribute to better health outcomes and the continuation of our American Indian traditions.

Please email Emily Proctor, Tribal Extension educator for Michigan State University Extension, with questions or comments at proctor8@anr.msu.edu. For more information on quilts and health, American Indians and quilts and quilt history. please review the follow sites:




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