‘Making the FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education #femedtechquilt #oer20 #thecareinopeness’…by Suzanne Hardy

From piles of fabric to 4 quilt tops in one short weekend

I spent last weekend at the home of Frances Bell. She invited me to join her in curating and piecing together the squares which have been arriving in a steady stream in the post over the past few weeks from all over the world which will become the FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice.

Frances has been a keen quilter (when she has not been advocating for, promoting and encouraging women working in educational technology) for a long time and is very experienced at putting quilts together. She knows how much work it takes and how long it takes to make a quilt. And although I have only dabbled in a very minor way in patchwork and quilting, having done one of the terms from the Embroidered Digital Commons with my good friend Yolande Knight. For our term, Quotidian, we tried to introduce a daily embroidery practice into our lives, embroidering 32 x 12 inch patches, which we always intended to turn into a quilt. The patches are in a pile in Cornwall.

I know my way around a sewing machine, a needle and a pair of snips. I have worked in educational technology for 20 years, and in open education since 2009. I have also always been interested in the value of womens work, collaboration, and the place of women artists in history since I was an art history undergraduate in the mid-late 80s.

So when Frances invited me, I jumped at the chance to spend another weekend with her, and with local volunteer women who really know their way around a quilt, but who have nothing to do with educational technology, open education or OER20.

At the beginning of the weekend, our U3A quilting volunteers were fairly amused by what we were explaining to them. But the pathos, stories, labour and thought that had gone into each little square, and the wide list of places they had come from, soon brought us all together in a wonderful two days of making.

Frances and I started on Friday night by looking at all the squares to see if any more of them needed reinforcing or repairing. Some had become damaged in the post and where glue had come apart, we added small stitches. Where jewels, buttons or beads had fallen off, or were going to be intersected by a seam, we carefully removed and restitched to avoid seams and damage, or added a tacked on protective patch to keep everything in place during quilt construction.

We counted out how many 6 inch and how many 12 inch squares we had. Then we put them in random piles for four quilts and came up with a configuration which more or less fitted the numbers:

Some of the stories which accompanied the squares were extremely moving. It is clear that a great deal of love and care has gone into each little mosaic part of this project.Each square had to be trimmed to the right size. After that we carefully photographed each square for the digital version of the quilt. Every contributor has the chance to write about their square – you can read about many of them. Some have contributed short videos, which will be edited together by even more volunteers.

We divided up the work. One person spent a whole morning trimming, another spent a whole morning cutting blue sashing (the spaces between the squares/blocks). At the same time we had three sewing machines going (and a very busy ironing board) joining the 6 inch squares together to make blocks of four which had to end up being the same size as the larger 12 inch squares.

Sashing of 1.5 inches was added to space the squares/blocks out, until we ended up with 4 quilt tops – each quilt will end up being just short of 4 feet square.

So ended day one.

A collective and highly collaborative 40 hours of labour had ensured we moved from a raggle taggle pile of different sized squares made from a variety of textiles to four pieced quilt tops awaiting borders.

On day two Frances and I measured and cut the border pieces from the same blue cotton as the sashing, and we put the border on one quilt. The prototype of one quilt top was done.

We felt a huge sense of achievement.

Lots more to do

Let’s be clear here though. What we achieved in about 40 collective hours is only the start. Frances will be doing a LOT more work on the 4 quilts we pieced together, and I hope to join her to help.  You can read more about the work to come in a blog post by Frances and another she did on the quilt’s digital home where you can see a load of pictures capturing the process which I took over the construction weekend. By 1-2 April the quilt tops will have become four quilts which can be joined together with clasps, in a number of configurations, to make showing them a lot easier.

Make your mark at OER20

There are still opportunities to make your own mark on the FeMEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice, if you are a delegate at OER20, during a workshop on day one.

In this workshop delegates can contribute to the almost complete quilt with some stitches, and final embellishments.

There is no need to have any knowledge of sewing at all to contribute.

Frances and I will be on hand with sewing machines, needles, threads,  and all sorts of ways to make marks on fabric and things to embellish the quilts even if you have never sewed anything in your life. Come and sew on a button, add some beads or trim (we can even teach you how) or write something in a blank square with a fabric pen.

We have left some blank plain cream 6 inch squares on each of the four quilts for this, and if someone happened to bring along something which fitted into a 6 inch square, we may be able to add it by applique on the day (though given the numbers of submissions we had from the original call, we cannot guarantee everything will find a space).

One of the things that has struck me as we have been going through this whole process is about the value we place on labour and how lighlighting how much work has been involved in creating this quilt. Hours and hours of voluntary labour have gone into each square. Organising groups of people to create them together, taking time to find fabric and embellishments which mean something to the people who contributed them – both as squares and as fabric for backing. Time and effort has gone into sending them – across continents – not to mention the huge amount of collective postage. And a huge amount of time has been given in conceiving and bringing to life something which seemed like a small idea,  and turning into a project which has taken on a life of its own.

There will be a great deal more labour which goes into turning the quilt tops and digital squares into a series of artefacts, both physical and digital which are so much more than the sum of their parts.

Being involved in this project means a lot to me. It is part of my journey of collecting seemingly disparate experiences and stitching them together into my life. As we were working, I thought of my own journey through feminist practice and theory, about my previous career in the arts, about my own sporadic artistic practice – usually involving textiles and technology – about my 20 years in learning technology, and about my involvement in open education and the OER conference (I’ve been on the committee three times now I think).

We currently have the first major UK survey of pioneering feminist artist, author and educator Judy Chicago at BALTIC here in the North East of England. Judy produced a massive seminal feminist collaborative piece in the 70s called The Dinner Party which took 5 years and hundreds of women to make (Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-79). This work is an icon of 1970s feminist art and a milestone in twentieth-century art. It honours 1,038 women whose herstory was previously lost or ignored. Rozsika Parker wrote extensively on the place of women’s textiles in a ground breaking book, The Subversive Stitch, published in 1984.

As we trimmed, made stable, repaired and stitched together the contributed squares I was really struck by how often I thought of that piece of work which caused such controversy when it was shown in the mid 70s. Particularly when I came across squares with names embroidered on them.  And how important the work of creative women has been in feminism, in feminist Marxist discourse and in educational technology. Thankfully The Dinner Party now has a permanent home in the The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in the Brooklyn Museum, New York. My copy of The Subversive Stitch is on my coffee table once more, next to the piece of quilting I started when I got home from Macclesfield.

  • The FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice will be unveiled at OER20 on 1 April 2020.
  • We invite others to volunteer to show this amazing piece of work.
  • Wouldn’t it be lovely if the FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice could find a permanent home too?
  • And maybe now I have a bit more knowledge of quiltmaking, that pile of patches might get turned into a Quotidian quilt.

Suzanne Hardy, Learning Enhancement and Technology Projects Team Manager, Newcastle University.