I have a friend who doesn’t make quilts for gifts because she fears they won’t get used.
Who wouldn’t use a quilt, I wonder? But I suppose for some people quilts are such rare and valuable things that actually using them seems like sacrilege. When quilts get used, they get dirty. Sometimes they get torn, sometimes the dog chews holes in them. It just seems wrong to treat a quilt as something other than a work of art.
Of course if you’re a quilter and your quilt gets stained or torn, you make another one. In fact, you probably have half a dozen stored in the linen closet.
It’s a long-running debate: are quilts artifacts or are they blankets?
This brings us to today’s quilt story: Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” which appears in her collection Love and Trouble, but is also available online (I’ve included a link below). “Everyday Use” tells the story of an unnamed woman and her two young adult daughters, Maggie and Dee. The mother and Maggie still live at home—home being a three-room house with a tin roof and a dirt yard—while prodigal daughter Dee has gone off to college and the larger world. Her return home for a visit is the story’s triggering event.
Dee has come home to ask for things she once turned up her nose at, including a handmade butter churn and two quilts stored in a trunk. What she’d once seen as old-fashioned, she now declares priceless parts of her African-American heritage. But her mother insists the quilts are to go with Maggie when she marries, news that infuriates Dee.
“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she complains. “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”
As far as Dee’s concerned, these quilts should be hung on the wall and admired (she plans to display the butter churn as an art object as well). As far as her mother is concerned, you wear a quilt out and then you make another one. Quilts are made to be used. That’s the whole point.
I give people quilts all the time, and I hope they’re used. But then like the mother in “Everyday Use,” I’m a quilter. If you wear out my quilt, I’ll make you another.
To read “Everyday Use” online, go here:
Here is a wonderful interview Alice Walker gave about quilts to the writer/photographer Roland Freeman. Well worth your time!