African textiles and quilting developed in Africa will over 1,000 years ago. When the Africans came over to the United States for the slave trade, many African traditions combined with American traditions. ?Their combined ideas were passed down from generation to generation, thus preserving many African textiles traditions?(Torrey, 517). Afro-American quilts are mad by piecing cut out shapes on a larger fabric called an applique. ?Afro-American quilts are characterized by strips, bright colors, large designs, multiple patterns, asymmetry, and improvisation All design principles with roots in African textile techniques and cultural traditions.?(517). For the Afro-Americans who grew up in the time when there was no social security, quilted to survive and stay busy.
Quilts are made by having tiny pieces of cloth sewn together to make a bigger piece. Each piece has a different meaning. Quilts can show a map of a family. Each piece tells a story about someone?s history. ?A patch is a fragment. It is a vestige of wholeness that stands as a sign of loss and a challenge to creative design?(Baker, 706).
The piece shows someone?s struggle or what someone went through in their time. Many families used the scraps from old clothing they just could not throw away. Times were rough for many black families in the South. Many of them could not read or write. The only way they could keep some type of record of a family was to quilt.
In Alice Walker?s story Everyday Use, Dee wanted to hang the quilts up for display, but her sister wanted to keep the quilts maybe for use. The quilts were promised to Maggie when she gets married, but Dee says, ?Maggie can?t appreciate these quilts… She?d probaly be backward enough to put them to everyday use?(Walker, 401). Dee thinks the quilts are ?priceless,?(401) because they were made back many years ago. ?Dee makes the mistake of believing that one?s heritage is something that one puts on display if and when such a display is fashionable?(Wichell, 81). Dee went off to college and came back a very different person. The mother explains how Dee comes back wearing ?Address so loud it hurts my eyes?(397). She came back being very fashionable. Dee changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo to make it more fashionable. Dee thought that her roots would be fashionable. Everything that dealt with her heritage, Dee wanted to put it up for display.
Maggie on the other hand really understood her roots because she was there to learn them from her grandparents. The quilts were promised to Maggie on her wedding day. Dee did not like that because she thought the quilts should be up for
display. The quilts were offered to Dee before she went off to college, but she said, ?they were old-fashioned, out of style.? Now that she has went off to college and come back with a new attitude towards homemade things she really wants them. Maggie gives up and says that Dee can have them, but the mother will not have that and takes the quilts from Dee.
art, a tendency now fostered by many women who have discovered the works of their maternal ancestors?(Christian, 44). Quilts can help a family trace back a few generations from when the quilt was made. A person can see what their family has gone through. It can bring a family closer because the young ones would have to listen to the older ones in the family. This would start story telling and everyone would come and listen. The stories told would be of past experiences of the family.
The mother in the story Everyday Use tells the entire story. She describes herself as a ?big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands?(395). She has worked her entire life on a farm in the South. The mother only had a second grade education and her daughter had to read to her. The mother was a strong hardworking woman. After the fire that burned down their old house, she kept
Maggie because she was very shy. Even though she was a single parent, she was very strong by raising two daughters. She was even able to scrape up enough money to send one of her daughters off to college. The mother was the backbone of the family. She states ?I was always better at a man?s job? (396). It was usually a man?s job to raise a family. The mother did every job possible that some men would not do. The mother was very strong in character.
Dee was different from everyone else in the family. Her sister Maggie thought ?her sister held life always in the palm of one hand, that no is a word never learned to say to her?(394). Dee was in her own little world. She changed her name to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo to keep up with the times. She says, ?I couldn?t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me?(398). During this time period, everyone
was screaming, ?I?m black and I?m proud!? The changing of her name was just to keep up with the times. When she was young, her mother thought she had her own unique style and only Dee knew what it was. Dee was the only child to go off to college. When she came back, she looked at things differently. All of the old things in the house seemed important to her. She hated her mother?s things when she was younger and when the old house burned down, she was very happy. Dee wanted the handmade things out of her mother?s house because she thought that they were part of her heritage. It did go through Dee?s head that the
homemade objects were signs of oppression also because her family could not afford to buy them. This was a sign that Dee was confused of her heritage.
Maggie was the real shy one out of the family. After the house burned down, she was not same. The mother describes Maggie as ?she will stand hopelessly in corners, homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs, eyeing her sister with a mixture fi envy and awe?(394). Maggie was always looking down at the ground. Both Maggie and her mother were not very bright, but that did not let that keep them down. They still did their best with what they knew. They read books together, which made them, come closer together.
Baker, Houston and Charlotte Pierce-Baker. Patches: ?Quilts and Community in
Alice Walker?s Everyday Use.? Southern Review 21 (1985): 706-720.
Christian, Barbara. ?The Black Woman Wayward.? In Alice Walker. Ed. Harold
Bloom. New York. Chelsea 1989. 39-58.
Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. 1982.
Walker, Alice. ?Everyday Use.? In the Short Story: 30 Masterpiecies. 2nd ed.
Ed. Beverly Lawn. New York: St. Martin?s 1992. Pg. 395-402.
Walkley,Christina. ?Quilting the Rocky Road: Women in the New World.?
History Today. Nov.1992: 30-37
Winchell, Donna Haisty. ?Alice Walker.? New York. 1992. 81-84.