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Diane Williams gives presentation on diverse quilting history

Last Sunday, dozens of quilting enthusiasts of every age gathered at the library for the Friends of the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library’s event called Quilting in South Mississippi.

At the beginning of the event, Diane Williams gave a presentation on the Historic Journey of African American Quilters. Williams is a quilter, storyteller and mixed media fiber artist and works for the Mississippi Arts Commission.

She said 200 to 300 years ago, quilting was primarily utilitarian. People sewed pieces of cloth and clothing together to make blankets to keep them warm at night and through the winter. As time went on, quilting slowly began to change, she said.

In the mid 1900s, quilters began creating beautifully designed quilts with all kinds of colors and designs. They sold them or put them on display in museums. They used their craft to tell stories and to inspire people, Williams said. She said this was when quilting began to move from an important utility, to an art.

Quilts portrayed mothers and children, beautiful scenery, elaborate dinner spreads, and countless other life-like scenes. Williams said what was important about these pieces is the way they brought people together, no matter their race. People of every color could look at a quilt with a peach cobbler embroidered on it and strike up a conversation about home-cooked meals and their favorite recipes, she said. 

The designs brought people together for a third purpose – activism, Williams said. She clarified that she was not talking about rioting in the streets, but rather a quiet activism that breaks down barriers and brings people together. She said quilts were made to portray stories of slavery and oppression – not to attack anyone. The goal was to have conversations. 

After her presentation, Williams invited the audience to browse her work.

Door prizes were given away during the event, which included tickets to the Crosby Arboretum, tickets to the WWII Museum in New Orleans, tickets to upcoming quilting shows, T-shirts, gift cards and a variety of other items. A cake designed as a bed covered with a quilt was also on display until it was cut and shared with attendees.

Around the room, members of the Picayune Piecemakers set up small displays to demonstrate quilting basics. In the foyer, a member of the Piecemakers sold tickets for the raffle of a large Mississippi quilt. Proceeds from the raffle will benefit the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library. At the end of the event three quilts and a beginner’s quilting basket was raffled off.

The money will fund renovations to the library’s circulation desk making it handicap accessible, previous coverage states.