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Kristin Miller


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 Quilt Project

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Quilt Project

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Quilt Squares

Advice on Group-made Message Quilts and Protest Quilts

Get a few people interested: 
Talk to a few friends or like-minded people, quilters and non-quilters alike, about making a protest quilt to support your cause. Show them photos of protest quilts, message quilts, quilt squares that “say something”, and group-made quilts  Find three or four people willing to help you with initial planning and decision-making  

Gather together and decide:

  • theme: We asked people to make a quilt square that expressed their thoughts or feelings about the gas-burning power plant that B.C. Hydro was planning to build in Nanaimo , or to make a square that expressed broader environmental concerns.

  • size of blocks: I suggest 12” finished squares, so they can be trimmed with the twelve and a half inch Omnigrid square. We asked for 13 inch unfinished squares, with the outer inch all around left undecorated. This gave us a little leeway for trimming the squares to 12.5 inches.

  •   restrictions:  Specify fabric paints only for best results, and the use of media and materials that will wear well.

  •   participants:  An open invitation for anyone in your community to participate will give you a lively and diverse group. Quilters bring special expertise, but artists and everyday people will have lots of exciting new ideas, and can use other methods besides sewing to make quilt blocks. Children are often eager to contribute too.

  •   contact person(s):  Someone willing to handle phone calls and emails, and to receive the quilt blocks

  •  group affiliations If your protest quilt project is connected to a group that is concerned about your cause, you will want to let them know your plans, and you will want to coordinate your efforts with theirs.

  •  purpose of quilt(s) We made our quilts to raise public awareness about the power plant, and to raise funds for the Nanaimo Citizen’s Organizing Committee, which opposes the plant. Originally, we planned to raffle the quilts, but later we decided to keep them, as they were too valuable and useful to part with.

  •  see comments below

Figure out time scheme:
 There is no point taking a year to make a protest quilt about something that is being decided in the next two months. Find out the important dates and deadlines that affect the battle you are fighting (dates of public hearings, of environmental reviews, of planning permits, of public elections, of council meetings etc). Work with your affiliating group so your quiltmaking schedule is coordinated with their efforts. We had to get our quilts out in public very quickly because plans for the power plant were proceeding so quickly, so we started displaying them before they were quilted (with bound edges and hanging sleeves however). We also did much of the quilting in public.

Postpone some decisions.... Or you’ll never get started. Since we didn’t know how many people would participate, we decided to “not decide” how many blocks we needed or how big our quilt(s) would be, leaving those choices for our first sewing session.

Ask people to participate: 
Phone or email anyone who might be interested, post signs on bulletin boards, speak up at meetings, put notices in “community calendar” section of newspapers, and call up local reporters. And supply the important information. 

For example:

Please join us in a Quilt Project to show your opposition 
to the proposed power plant at Duke Point.

Make a 12” square (unfinished size 13”)
        or a 12” X 27” rectangle (unfinished size 13” X 28”)

      Sew, use fabric paint, or embroider on fabric

           Make your square to express something you feel strongly about—
the power plant, or larger environmental or political concerns

        March 31: deadline to finish quilt squares
April 7: sewing squares together (give address)

          Contact: (give email and phone #’s)

Keep track:

  • start a phone and email list of anyone interested, with a column of what they are willing to do

  • keep a list of volunteer jobs, and who has offered to help

  • keep track of dates and deadlines, and upcoming events that affect your cause

  • keep yourself informed about the issues, as people will want to know “the facts”

Decide who is responsible for different aspects of the project: 
Unless you are willing to do everything yourself, you need people responsible for various tasks such as:

  • communicating with participants by email and phone

  • publicity, announcements to media, talking to press

  • contact person(s)

  • fundraising (if this is one of your reasons for making the quilts)

  • liaison and planning with group you are affiliated with

Figure out fabric and supplies needed:

-it is probably easiest to ask a quilter to figure out yardages.

-in our project, one of the quilters donated the batting, and we asked people to bring fabric that might be suitable for the lattice, binding, and backing. If these are not familiar terms to you, then you probably need to get some more quilters involved.

-you will need to arrange for someone to bring sewing machines, irons, and all the other sewing and quilting supplies. Again, ask the quilters to draw up a list of what is needed.


 Sorry, but I can’t give detailed instructions here. Your library will have quilt books that may be helpful, and the quilters in the group will probably know how to put the quilt together and quilt it.

A word of quilterly caution:

Hopefully, you will have quilters participating in your project, and they will be offering invaluable expertise, and will probably end up doing most of the sewing besides.  But because quilting is often a very traditional pursuit, the quilters may become nervous about how to work with the unconventional quilt blocks that are part of a protest quilt project. So I ask the quilters to be brave and open-minded, and I ask the non-quilters to understand that quilting does rely on good technique and workmanship, and I ask for everyone to be patient with each other.

 Sizing the squares:

Inevitably, the squares will all be slightly different in size. But they need to be all the same size, for ease of sewing together. So someone will need to trim them all the same. Using a twelve and a half inch Omnigrid square and a rotary cutter is the easiest and most accurate method. Or you can carefully measure and mark and cut, using a cardboard template, or else use a carpenters  L-shaped square.

Arranging the squares:

It may take several hours to decide on the layout of your quilt or quilts. I feel it is important for a group of people to work together in arranging the squares, both for aesthetic input and for group solidarity. The quilt squares can be laid out on the floor, or pinned to the wall, but keep them moving around, trying out different arrangements.

  It seems to work best if this can be viewed as a game, with people taking turns moving the quilt squares around until consensus is finally reached. Take a break if it gets too frustrating. Be sure to allow everyone to give input. And don’t worry, eventually you will find an arrangement that is balanced and beautiful.

How big?

You probably won’t know till the sewing day how many squares you will have. So the size of the quilt may be a last-minute decision. Although a big quilt is impressive, it is also much harder to sew together, and harder to carry around and display.

So if you get lots of squares,  I strongly suggest making several smaller quilts, especially if they are to be used as banners at events. Two or three squares wide, by three or four squares long works well.

The lattice:

Although the squares could be sewn together without anything between them, usually strips of fabric are used to separate each square. I’d suggest using 3” strips. Again, consult a quilt book or a quilter.

Swing the quilt top together:

Follow the guidance of the quilters. Usually, quilt squares are sewn together in horizontal rows, with a strip of lattice between each square. Then the rows are sewn together, with strips of lattice between each row. Often, an outer border is added, in the same colour, or in a contrasting colour.

 Layering the quilt:

The backing fabric is spread out smoothly, with the batting over it, and with the quilt top spread over the batting.

The quilt is basted or safety-pinned to hold the layers together.


Quilting is the process of stitching through all three layers of the quilt. Although many quilts are quilted on a sewing machine, I’d like to suggest doing some of the quilting by hand, for a number of reasons. The slow, contemplative, sociable process of hand quilting encourages group cohesiveness, and is a great time for planning, strategizing, and discussing. I believe that a quilt gains power and resonance from being hand-quilted by a group, and also ends up being more meaningful because many people’s ideas and emotions are involved. And quilting in public is a great way to attract attention to your cause. Please read comments below about Public Quilting.

For practical reasons, it makes sense to use the sewing machine to put the binding on the quilt, and to add a line of quilting around each square. Then, hand-quilting can be done within the squares. You do not need a quilting frame if the quilt is spread out on a table and kept smooth. It’s a good idea to check the back of the quilt occasionally to make sure it is smooth, and that the stitches go clear through to the back.

Don’t worry about the size of your stitches. This is a modern quilt---so quilt it the modern way, with big stitches using bright coloured threads. Quilting thread, embroidery thread, #8 or #12 perl cotton, or #30 crochet thread are all good choices.You can find some advice on quilting from my book, The Careless Quilter online at


We did much of the hand-quilting on the Positive Energy Quilts in public places. In part, this was because our quilts were not yet finished at the time that rallies and meetings were being held, so we took them along and worked on them there. We found that they attracted a lot of attention, and so we scheduled public quilting in a coffee bar, at a public plaza, on the sidewalk outside of venues where Hydro was holding meetings, and in the park. People often came up to see what we were doing, and we told them about our concerns, showed them literature, and asked them to sign a petition.


Even if  fund-raising is your main goal for the quilts, you should also consider using them to attract attention to your cause, to sway public opinion, to get your message across to politicians and bureaucrats, and to raise the spirits of  the people you are working with.

Carrying and displaying the quilts:

Each of our Positive Energy Quilts has a “sleeve” of fabric sewn at the top on the back, with a wooden dowel or stick running through it with screw-eyes at the ends. Nylon fishing line was tied to the screw-eyes, so that the quilts could be carried  or hung up easily. We made waterproof bags to transport the quilts in. You will want to be able to pack and unpack the quilts quickly and easily, and you will need to protect them from damage.

We carried the quilts in rallies and informal picketing by using bamboo garden stakes. If you take a hacksaw and make a half-inch slit in one end of the stick, you can slip the fishing line into the slit and easily carry the quilt like a banner. We also sometimes wore the quilts as capes, using a clip at the neck to hold them in place.

Where to go with the quilts:

Take your quilts anywhere that the organization or group you are affiliated with is going. If there is a march or a rally, take your quilts. If there is a gathering or a meeting, decorate the hall with your quilts. Ask your library or community center to display the quilts.

 If there are public events, ask if you can display your quilts. If there is a quilt show, enter your quilts in it. If the bureaucrats or the politicians are in meetings, reviews, or information sessions, show up with your quilts. If you get kicked out, walk up and down the sidewalk outside with your quilts. If you are shy, hide under your quilts!

Provide written information:

-basic information about your cause, including contact phone #

-information about the quilts, and why they were made

-have each quilter write out what her quilt square is about, and print up notices or booklets

-newspaper articles

Getting attention:

Your quilts will attract attention wherever they are, but you can help the process along by writing up press releases, writing letters to the editor, and writing articles for small local papers. You can call the local TV stations and tell them what you are doing and ask them to cover you, or you could show them on “Speaker’s Corner TV”  

You can also use the images of your quilts by submitting photos with brief captions to local newspapers, by making and selling cards, or by putting your quilts on posters. We sent photos, letters, and messages from the quilter’s to politicians, and submitted this material to the Environmental Review and the Public Utilities Inquiry. 

The Positive Energy Quilts have also been in several art exhibits, and three of them are in an exhibit about textile art and social activism, in January 2005 in New Zealand.

Try to be just as creative in getting your quilts out into the world as you were making them. You will be amazed at what an effect they can have.

Good luck, and have fun.







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