Women, quilting, and cultural production
Stalp, Marybeth Catherine
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This research analyzes the meaning of quiltmaking as a form of unpaid creative work among contemporary American women who make it an important part of their lives. Interviews and participant observation reveal that the quilting process immerses women in an often overlooked form of cultural production in the context of everyday life activities. Quilting is used in multiple ways as an extension of women’s caretaking and tradition-maintaining activities. Quilts bookmark and commemorate important family events and, through gift exchange with friends and kin, solidify social ties. They leave visual, tactile records of women’s daily lives and of their skills as artists and technicians, aspects of their lives that women hope will be remembered. Quilting can strengthen women’s identities and heighten a sense of connection with the past, especially with women ancestors. It provides opportunities for true leisure, artistic expression, relaxation, and self-renewal for quilters. Within-home and non-economic aspects of cultural production reveal the importance of woman-centered cultural activities, those that women engage in for personal reasons. Analysis of quilting sheds light on power dynamics in contemporary families, where activities that cannot be defined as either market work or direct family carework are validated less for women than for other family members. Many quilters face struggles within families to gain time, space, and other resources to continue their work. These conflicts signify the difficulties women face in many domains of contemporary life, where they are often expected to support and care for others at the expense of self-development and creative expression. Quilting activities have various dimensions, presenting a complex portrait of women’s cultural production. This research expands the sociology of culture, by analyzing processes of culture-creation in privatized, women-dominated sites that have rarely been analyzed before. It contributes to the sociology of gender by exploring how quilters simultaneously affirm and transform traditional women’s roles through quilting. Finally, it makes contributions to research on the family by illuminating how family dynamics make home life a workplace for women and constrain their opportunities, relative to other family members, to experience home as a site of leisure and self-renewal.