BY ANNA KANE ’20
On the afternoon of Feb. 25, the Unity Center in Blanchard Campus Center was transformed amid a flurry of activity. A hum of sewing machines, laughter and conversation filled the room, and a patchwork of mini quilts scattered all around represented the many faiths and cultures of the attendees. Assisted by Sisters in Stitches Joined by the Cloth (SISJBTC), students representing different religious and cultural organizations on campus came together Sunday to create their own quilted banners to be displayed in the Unity Center.
SISJBTC is a quilting guild from the Boston area. Focused on African traditions and techniques, SISJBTC celebrates history and tradition through the art of quilt making. The guild strives to continue the tradition of quilt making by people of African descent to “celebrate our heritage and reinforce the link that binds us to our collective history. [Quiltmaking] is our way of contributing and participating in our traditions,” according to their website.
Epyana Smith ’18 served as a liaison for the College and SISJBTC, and introduced the guild to art museum curators. Last spring, SISJBTC visited Mount Holyoke during Black History Month to give a presentation on the history of quilting in the African-American community.
Annette McDermott, dean of religious and spiritual life, asked SISJBTC to assist in making a quilt to warm up the stark neutral color palette of the Unity Center. Guild member Susie Ryan visited Mount Holyoke and decided that the space needed multiple quilts in order to pay homage to the Unity Center’s mission of unifying students on campus.
Multiple student organizations are taking advantage of SISJBTC’s expertise. During the Sunday sewing workshop, Nabeeha Noor ’20 sat with an embroidery hoop and created a banner to represent the Muslim Student Association. The banner will incorporate a blue embroidered eight point star on green and white printed fabric, traditional colors in Islam.
“I like crafting circles for how they bring people together,” she said.
Maggie Micklo ’21 and Maggie Murphy ’21 of the Interfaith Leadership Council worked together to create the interfaith quilt, which incorporated a blue and green striped earth with pink continents. They envisioned it having red hands made of cloth dyed with red tea, holding different religious symbols above the earth. Together, the students braided red lanyards that are used to hold name tags during interfaith lunches to be sewn onto the banner.
Nearby, Emily Clarke ’21 gathered a collection of fabric to represent the Aspiring Religious Leaders Circle. She said she envisions the organization’s banner with an outer red border and an inner border made of several different patterns of yellow fabric. The middle will include a white square of fabric that leaders can write their hopes and religious symbols on.
“I want the banner to have ornate gold, so I chose lots of yellow, and red is our color. We always have it on our flyers,” she said.
“Teaching a younger generation to quilt is our purpose,” said Ryan. “It’s fueling us.”
Smith sat at a sewing machine and used a “crazy patches” technique to stitch together fabric for the Association of Pan African Unity’s (APAU) banner. The front of the banner will feature a black woman with hair in the shape of the continent of Africa, stitched together using various patches. The back of the banner will feature well-known African-American historical references, such as the Tuskegee Airmen and “The Mis-Education of the Negro.”
“Since we’re the APAU, we want to be able to show all sides of black identity,” Smith explained.
The unity quilt project workshop will be offered again on March 4 and March 25 in the Unity Center, and the final project will be unveiled April 8. “Anyone can participate, especially marginalized identities who want to be represented in the space,” said Smith.
The “Piece Together: The Quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph” exhibit, which examines the meaning and stories behind traditional African-American quilts, is on display at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum until May 27. SISJBTC will be at the art museum to lead Community Day with Sisters in Stitches in activities, quilt-making and storytelling on April 8.