International Honor Quilt

International Honor Quilt

In 1980 Judy Chicago and Through the Flower invited the submission of small triangular quilts honoring women of the quiltmaker’s choice.  Since that time approximately six hundred of these colorful creations have traveled with The Dinner Party and together with registrarial material compiled by Dr. Marilee Schmit Nason were archived by Through the Flower. In 2013 Through the Flower donated the project, accompanying documentation, and material to the University of Louisville and the Hite Art Institute.  International quilt expert Shelly Zegart chairs the committee overseeing the project.

Over the course of time the International Honor Quilt has also been known as the International Quilting Bee.  We are using its original name here to more accurately reflect the true meaning of the project.

Initiated by Judy Chicago when The Dinner Party was exhibited in Houston, TX in 1980, the International Honor Quilt commemorates hundreds of individual women and women’s organizations; standing as a monument to womankind by honoring the accomplishments, personalities, individualism, and importance of women throughout history and the world.  The women represented are from all over the United States and Canada as well as from Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Japan, Scotland, England, Lithuania, Russia, and France.

The women and institutions represented in the International Honor Quilt fall into several categories.  Some are memorials to loved or admired individuals; others are testaments to the impact of The Dinner Party on the quilters themselves; still others depict the impact of formal women’s groups, businesses, or organizations on the quilter.  Regardless of the content or context of the work each honor quilt is an eminently personal statement about the quilters themselves, their friends and relatives, and historical figures who have captured the respect, admiration, or imagination of another individual.  In a very real way they are, as one participant pointed out, homages to the “lost women” of history.  Whereas on one level the International Honor Quilt stresses the inclusive nature of Judy Chicago’s work by inviting any person moved by a woman and her accomplishments to participate in this communal artwork, on another it extricates individual women from anonymity by providing a structured context in which to honor those whose achievements are admired by others.

After their initial exhibition in Houston, TX, the quilts accompanied The Dinner Party exhibition tour.  They have been displayed in: Boston, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.  In Canada they were exhibited in: Montreal, Glenbow, and Toronto.  They have traveled to Scotland, London, England, Frankfurt, Germany, and to Melbourne, Australia.  At each venue, dozens more honor quilts were added to the collection.  By the time The Dinner Party tour was ended the quilts numbered approximately 600.

The triangles combine a variety of media and techniques.  Some employ traditional quilting materials in tradition patterns such as meaningful scraps of fabric gathered from family heirlooms and pieced in log cabin, crazy quilt, or windmill designs.  In addition many quilts use traditional decorative elements such as top stitching, needlepoint, bargello, trapunto, and embroidery.  Other quilts rely on integrating mixed media in innovative techniques juxtaposing photographic transfers, handmade felts, and handmade papers with wire, plastics, ceramic beads, metallic meshes, glass, wood, shells, stones, and feathers.  Several quilts are imaginative collages incorporating favorite items of the person honored.

Some of the honor quilts are executed by professional quilters, seamstresses, and artists.  The great majority are made by inexperienced artisans who bring together items of interest to them and their themes.  Although often naive in their elaboration all are heartfelt representations of, and memorials to, women that have touched those around them.  Viewed individually many of the pieces are not “quilts” in the traditional sense.  But, when pieced together, they form a whole quilt by melding a variety of materials in an overall mutable array of tributes to the significant contributions of individual women, to the reaffirmation of women’s experience, and to the heritage of womankind.

About the International Honor Quilt

Since its inception Through the Flower has worked with Judy Chicago to support many projects ensuring that women’s achievements will not be erased from history.  We have accomplished this in part by sponsoring and touring various projects so as to reach as wide an audience as possible.  The Dinner Party was toured and cared for by Through the Flower until permanent housing could be achieved.  The International Honor Quilt traveled together with The Dinner Party.  The quilts and documentation are now part of Through the Flower’s archives.

The uniformity of presentation shared by the quilts is due to general guidelines drawn up before the Houston show.  The International Honor Quilt “kit” laid out the basic design elements for the pieces.  Each was to be an equilateral triangle, a long standing symbol of the female, measuring two feet on each side with each side displaying the name of the person or the institution honored, the place of origin, and the country.  The shape of these quilts repeated the shape of The Dinner Party so configured because the triangle is an early sign for women and of the goddess.

International Honor Quilt Gifted to
University of Louisville

Click here for example documentation

To further our goal of teaching through art and placing works where they can reach the widest possible audience in October 2013, Through the Flower gifted the International Honor Quilt project to the University of Louisville and its Hite Art Institute, where it will be used for educational purposes and be permanently available for active research and study.  The project included quilts, documentation and registrarial materials compiled by Dr. Marilee Schmit Nason.  Shelly Zegart, an international quilt expert, was the catalyst for placing the project with the University, and chairs the committee overseeing the integration and use of the International Honor Quilt at the University.

The University has completed its digitized integration of the International Honor Quilt quilts and documentation into the Hite Collection as well as into the University’s research resources and collection. The University has already created a number of interdisciplinary academic programs utilizing the quilt project and plans to expand its curriculum potential both inside and outside the University.

The Gifting of the International Honor Quilt

The International Honor Quilt brochure

Related information

In 2011, The Kentucky Quilt Project created a nine-part documentary series, “Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics,” looking at quilts from their unique position at the center of a broad grid of topics, ranging from women’s studies to the contemporary art market.  Shelly Zegart, executive producer and host of the series is a co-founder of The Kentucky Quilt Project and a noted expert in quilt study.  According to Zegart “Quilts are our windows into the history, art, and politics of this country.”

Click here for an overview of the series on YouTube.

Click here for an overview of the episode “Empowering Women One Quilt at a Time.”