Within the United States, popular conceptions of quilts have historically been linked to domesticity, and in turn, with women. Quilts are gendered female.

Ideals about quilts as feminine objects grew more pronounced during the Colonial Revival, which looked longingly toward an imagined past in which women produced essential goods domestically. This simplistic view overlooked the role of men in quiltmakingin Europe many professional quiltmakers were malebut also essentialized quilts within a domestic sphere, despite their close connections with industrialization and commerce.

Beverly Gordon generalizes in her discussion of gendered ways of interacting with objects, that males are more comfortable viewing objects from an impersonal, abstract distance. Females, on the other hand, prefer more personal, intimate distances and perceive details and textures. Applied to quilts, this theory of “proxemics” suggests that men prefer to see a quilt from a distance hanging on a wall, while women prefer to see the fabrics and stitches up close.1

For example, collecting antique quilts has been an activity with many male participants. Those quilts celebrated for their aesthetic parallels with modern and abstract paintingsparticularly Amish quilts and African American quilts from the rural Southhad a particular appeal to some male collectors. Jonathan Holstein, Doug Tompkins, and David Pottinger were among the most prominent Amish quilt collectors, while art dealers Bill Arnett, Robert Cargo, and Eli Leon led the art world toward appreciation of African American quilts. In contrast, many prominent women dealers and collectors paid more attention to quilts’ role within women’s lives and the expertise with which the objects were crafted. These too, are generalizations, but suggest the gendered ways in which men and women have interacted with quilts.

In Men and the Art of Quiltmaking, Joe Cunningham observes that within the contemporary quilt world, men tend to head many larger quilt related businesses, but that there are increasingly more men making quilts as well. He suspects that two factors have influenced this: the emphasis on machine sewing (since men like machines, he generalizes) and the Internet, which has allowed male quilters to find one another.

1. Gordon, “Intimacy and Objects,” 243-246.