Quiltmaking as an act of commemoration and expression of community has a long history in the United States.
The mid-19th century development of the Album quilt—a collection of sewn fabric blocks either made by different women or signed by various friends and family—was an early and influential commemorative quiltmaking fad.
Often, these album quilts noted momentous family events, such as weddings, births, deaths, or a move westward, or celebrated the achievements of a noted family or community member. For instance, the 19th-century album quilt pictured in the image carousel was made to commemorate the service of Ann Rhees, a prominent member of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, in 1846. The inscription in the center block reads, “Presented to Mrs. Ann Rhees by the Ladies of the Sewing Circle and other attached relatives and friends.” Rhees, who was widowed only a few years after her marriage to Reverend Morgan Rhees, continued the work of her husband, who was an early proponent of the Sunday School movement.
Other styles followed the album quilt, including quilts commemorating political and social causes, such as abolition and temperance, as well as those used to raise funds for churches and service organizations. Sometimes, the event being commemorated is fairly obvious, as with the 1876 red and green applique quilt at left commemorating America’s Centennial. Others are less clear, leaving questions for future researchers to answer.
More recently, quilts have been made to honor the deaths of soldiers in various fields of combat and to honor the victims of terrorist attacks like September 11, 2001. Probably the most famous recent commemorative quiltmaking effort is the NAMES project, honoring victims of the AIDS epidemic. To date, more than 48,000 three-foot by six-foot AIDS Memorial Quilt panels have been made.