Contemporary African American Quiltmaking

African American quiltmakers over the last forty years have participated in the traditions established by their families and communities while also developing new ones. Makers, historians, and artists have worked steadily to raise awareness about African American quiltmaking. During the 1980s, African American quiltmakers began asking the question, “Where are all the African American quiltmakers?” Feeling isolated and at times constrained by being the only African American members of an otherwise all white quilt guild, women of color began seeking each other out, forming new groups, and asking questions about African American quiltmaking history and tradition.

Carolyn Mazloomi, an aerospace engineer and quiltmaker, began the Women of Color Quilters Network in 1985 when she received eight responses to an inquiry in Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine. The group set goals including fostering, preserving, and supporting the art of quiltmaking among women (and men) of color. 

Among other accomplishments, the Women of Color Quilters Network has challenged the widely propagated belief that there is a standard African American “style” or "tradition" and developed exhibits of quilts showcasing the full range of African American quiltmaking. Artist Roland Freeman documented Carolyn Mazloomi, African American guilds, other quiltmakers, collectors, and artists such as Faith Ringgold and Sandra German in his landmark book A Communion of Spirits: African American Quilters, Preservers, and Their Stories. Freeman was the first to publish such a complete survey of African Americans in the contemporary quilt movement.

Viola Williams Canady, organizer of the Daughters of Dorcas and Sons, was among the documented quiltmakers. The Daughters of Dorcas may be the oldest African American quilt guild. After spending her career as a seamstress for the Department of the Army, Canady continued sewing and sold her products, taught for the National Quilters Association, and showed her quilts. As women became interested, she started teaching them at her local church forming the Daughters of Dorcas society which has continued to educate and support African American quiltmakers.