- Historically, women made quilts for utilitarian and for aesthetic purposes. Quilting was for many women one of the few outlets in which they could express themselves in a patriarchal society. Quiltmaking in groups afforded women the opportunity to increase their personal and political empowerment and to legitimate social gatherings. Because quiltmaking has largely been a female experience, it is a valuable source of historical information for researchers in cultural studies and women's history.
Much study has been undertaken to describe the historical quiltmakers, and there is a need for additional information describing contemporary quiltmakers. The purpose of this study was to determine the characteristics of the contemporary quilter, where she learned her art/craft, how her guild membership benefited her, and why she chose to quilt. To investigate these questions, the researcher studied the Mary's River Quilt Guild (MRQG) in Benton County, Oregon.
A survey with 34 closed-ended questions and 4 open-ended questions was implemented at the May 1995 MRQG monthly meeting for the purpose of collecting data specific to the four research questions. Seventy-four surveys were collected, and seventy-one were usable for this study. Frequencies were tabulated for the close-ended questions, and characteristics were compiled. The four open-ended questions were analyzed for content by two independent researchers for interrater reliability.
In order to understand the MRQG membership better, findings from this study were compared to the general population of Benton County, Oregon. Because seventy-four percent of the MRQG study respondents resided in Benton County, Oregon, findings from
the 1990 Benton County census data were compared to ascertain how representative the
MRQG members were of the general surrounding population.
Demographic data were analyzed to compile a profile of the MRQG respondents. The typical MRQG respondent was white, between the ages of 36-45, and married with two to three children. Eighty-six percent had at least attended college and 56% had college degrees. The majority of respondents worked full-time and reported household incomes in the $40-44,999 range and higher. The majority of respondents indicated that they first learned to quilt via quilt classes, books, or self-teaching. For those few respondents who learned from a relative, the relationship of the relative was either mother or grandmother. The respondents joined the guild for innovative ideas, support and encouragement, and female comraderie. Respondents quilted most frequently for creative expression, challenge, relaxation, love and friendship, and to commemorate an event.
Quiltmaking is a social phenomenon predicted to have some longevity. Women, increasingly faced with the ambiguities of modern life and the definitions of female identities, may seek out affiliations with groups like quilt guilds that acknowledge women for their accomplishments.