Hand Quilt Along: Nasty Women Quilt 

Think “quilter.”

What image comes to mind?

For me, the image is of a plump, gray-haired lady (not woman, but lady), wearing an apron over a housedress. She’s sneaking a few moments away from baking bread and cleaning up after the grandkids to ply her needle. Her quilt is made of worn pieces of old clothing and she hums as she gently places her perfect stitches.

I’m a quilter. I’m not so plump, not so gray. I have no grandkids under foot and I seldom bake anything. And I’m no lady.

Let it be known that quilters come in all kinds of packages, with all kinds of political/religious/social backgrounds. We are young and old, women and men, and we use our quilts as a way of expressing our views of the world.

Quilting is not necessarily gentle and not necessarily lady-like. Many quilters have created quilts that are subversive and, in some basic way, the act of making something useful and practical and lasting, is subversive in itself.

When much of “women’s work” is work that is prosaic and almost immediately undone—the food is eaten and must be made anew, the clean house is dirtied, the neat beds are slept in—the quilts lasted. Quilts were a durable way a woman could say, “I am.”

I think that’s why I am enjoying my quilt for the Hand Quilt Along so much.

From the moment I decided to include the women’s rights quotations, I’ve gotten the biggest kick out of finding words from women I admire that most closely reflect the way I see the world.

Both blocks I quilted in the past three weeks have meaning for me in this way, one very obvious and one much more subtle.

The quote block I worked on most recently is a set of words from Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts. She made the remark after Donald Trump famously called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during one of the debates before the 2016 presidential election.


From that moment on, my highest aspiration has been to be a nasty woman, too. Nasty like Hillary and nasty like Elizabeth.


The pieced block I worked on this time is one of a number of traditional blocks that represent stylized trees and are often called by the name “Tree of Life.” Because I did most of my stitching “in the ditch,” or right in the seam lines, and because the stitches don’t show up against the pattern in the fabric, the block isn’t much to look at.

But working on it called to mind a beautiful song that is connected with this notion of quilting being a way for the maker to assert herself. Written by Eric Peltoniemi, and sung by Ann Mayo Muir, the song is called Tree of Life and the last verse says,

We’re only known as someone’s mother,
Someone’s daughter, or someone’s wife,
But with our hands and with our vision,
We make the patterns on The Tree of Life.

So, there we have the stereotype again—“someone’s mother, daughter, wife”— and the push back against it, the reminder that women, yes, even nasty women, are essential to the tree of life.

Heavy stuff for a Sunday morning. If you prefer a lighter look at the not-so-gentle craft of quilting, look at these needles I’ve ruined in the last two weeks! This is tangible evidence that quilting is not for the faint of heart or hand.


This Hand Quilt Along is an opportunity for hand quilters and piecers to share and motivate one another. We post every three weeks, to show our progress and encourage one another.  If you have a hand quilting project and would like to join our group contact Kathy at the link below.

Kathy, Lori, Margaret, Kerry, Emma, Tracy, Deb, Connie, Deborah,  SusanJessicaSherryNanette, Sassy, Edith, Sharon and Bella.

90 thoughts on “Hand Quilt Along: Nasty Women Quilt 

  1. I love the thought of someone looking at your quilt a hundred years from now and puzzling out the “nasty women” quote. And then the light goes on, “Aaah, this must have been during the Trump presidency.” Here’s to nasty women, subversive quilts, and plenty of back up needles.

    • I had someone ask me once why I had so many needles, since they never wear out! What?!?!?! I like that my quilt has quotes from different eras and women of different backgrounds, etc., and, yet, they all want the same thing . . .

  2. I can imagine that searching for women’s rights quotations would be interesting. Elizabeth Warren’s quotation is a classic. Can’the wait to see the finished project!

    • At this point, I’m looking forward to seeing it finished, too! I’ve spent more than my usual amount of time working on it lately (watching Olympics!) and my hand is sore!

  3. I made myself a T-shirt that just says, “Nevertheless.” Many women know that it comes from a negative comment about Elizabeth Warren (a woman who wrote twice for my old magazine). The full quote is, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” And I still like this retro quote bcs I believe it’s true: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

    • Isn’t it interesting that the shorthand “nevertheless” can pack so much meaning?! I have the full quote–she was warned, etc.–in the quilt, too. I was ambivalent about including it, because it’s the only quote from a man, and not one I admire.

  4. Kerry, you make me smile every time you post! Ouch for the needles, and try as you may, I think I will never be able to describe you as nasty!!! 😆 Well, I may need to reconsider after seeing what you did to those needles! On a more serious note, your stitching on the quotes is so so well done, it looks like the thread was really ink. Stitching in the ditch is not glamorous, but it is necessary and makes the difference in the end.

  5. Kerry, this post is wonderful. You managed to enlighten me, inspire me and make me laugh! Beautiful quilt and wonderful post.

  6. I have never though of quilters in the same way since I read a book called ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ which was about the use of quilts as signals on the underground railroad helping slaves escape. What a history of “nasty” women quilters!

    • Hidden in Plain View, as you’ve found, is the name of the book. The information in the book is really mostly speculation, and not based on historical facts. If you would like to find out more, you’re welcome to read my post on it. Also if you have any questions, feel free to ask. I’ve researched this issue much more than I could include in my post.

    • You’ve seen, from the other commenters, that the story of quilts being used along the Underground Railroad is just that–a pretty story. Like Melanie and Charlie, I’ve done a fair amount of research on the subject and both quilt historians and historians of African-American history agree that there’s no primary-source evidence for the use of quilts as code (unlike the use of slave spirituals to communicate, which is well documented). But! There are so many other examples of quilts being used in subversive ways!

        • I’m sorry we had to disappoint you but I was sure you’d want to know. And you are not at all alone in being duped! Elementary school teachers teach that story as true here in the US and want to fight back when they are told it isn’t true.

          • It’s so disappointing when there are so many good stories of the power of creativity to tell.
            Actually I’m having a bit of a week of having my illusions shattered, having just finished reading Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser… I knew that the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books were fiction and I knew the real story, having read widely about that part of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, but I didn’t know anything much about Rose Wilder Lane and Roger Lee McBride and their impact on her legacy (literary and financial) until now. Ah well, such is life.

  7. What a fantastic post! Your quilting skills, the quilt your woking on for this quilt along all inspire me to be a ‘nasty woman’ changing the my world through one stitch at a time. Your quilt is gorgeous! I am so excited to see it finished. Thank you for inspiring me.

    • Thanks for your enthusiasm! Part of the reason I keep coming back to quilting is that I really feel like it’s great medium for communication, if I choose to use it that way. It can be subtle, or not so subtle, but I can make a statement with it!

  8. Well I hope more people read and think about these quotes. I say this because while 54% of women voted for Clinton (I am bewildered why she did not get more) and Trump got 42%. The fact is Trump got 62% of the vote from white women. It seems we need more nasty white women. Also you may want to let people know the book about quilts being used in the underground railroad as signals has been debunked and just not true. I can’t stand bad history and from what I have learned this was worse than bad history as it was just made up to sell a book. Oh and by the way by reading your blog and having the pleasure of meeting you I can say you are a Lady in every good use of the word.

    • We always need more nasty women, in all colors and religions and shapes and sizes–I hope they’ll all get on board. And I am so glad you brought up the point about the bad history of the Underground Railroad/quilt connection. This story seems to really persist, in spite of all the hard evidence against it. In fact, at that quilt show where we met, the guild had a whole booth about it! I fought and fought against it and was simply brushed off . . .

  9. I enjoyed reading this. I’ve been told what quilters look like (“a bunch of old women sitting around, bitching about their husbands”) and it didn’t match up to my reality, either. And I’ve been told what women can and can’t do. Seems like we do an awful lot of things on the “can’t” list! Thanks, Kerry!

    • I’d like to do everything on the “can’t” list (except maybe the double axel–I really can’t do that!) Thank you so much for setting the record straight about the supposed Underground Railroad quilts. I completely understand why that story is so appealing but, like you and the other commenter, Charlie, I am the enemy of sanitized bad history!

  10. Like so many of your other commenters I too find your posts most enjoyable, uplifting, fun and informative. I do want to note that just because we live in an era when women and women’s work is disregarded doesn’t mean it will always be like this – it wasn’t before and it won’t be again. The times they are a-changin’. It might be a good idea to date your quotes 🙂

    • Thanks, Pauline–I’m struggling, a bit, to find new things to say in these HQAL posts, since every three weeks I’m pretty much reporting on the same things. And your idea to date the quotations is a great one . . . although I can’t imagine embroidering on the blocks now, unstablized and with the layers of the quilt getting in the way. I think what I’ll do is make a label for the back, when it’s finished, including that info!

  11. Absolutely beautiful song and an equally beautiful and inspiring quilt. In my quest to see how long quilting has been associated with women, I came across the story of Joe the Quilter. https://youtu.be/Jn7iIQubCdc It’s interesting to see how jobs shift over time from male to female ones; or from male/female to predominantly female.

    • It’s that rocking stitch! Loading up 4-5 stitches puts a lot of torque on the needle–the eyes break off, they bend like that! Someone asked me once why i needed so many needles, since they never wear out! HA!

  12. As a guy, I don’t fit the imagined quilters image you describe – Besides, I don’t quilt. However, I love this post … and comparing yourself to the image made me laugh! Thanks for the great read this morning. … and cheers to those who do this craft well.

  13. I don’t hand quilt very often – I’m not very gifted in that direction – but I did have a quilt under my sewing machine at the weekend, got too close to it and embedded the needle in my finger. My language was proof that I can be a very nasty lady indeed.

    • I wonder if that’s why so many old quilts survive in pretty good condition–the maker resisted having it used for every day, trying to preserve a bit of her work . . .

  14. Love the quotes on this quilt, but the Tree of Life song also resonated as when people ask me about the Women’s Institute I explain that when I’m there I’m not someone’s wife or mother or daughter, I’m just me 🙂

  15. 😄 that’s what my face looked like after reading your post! Kerry ,I do believe your the only person who would think to photo your broken needles. I just grumble ,pitch the broken one in the trash then find a new one.

  16. Your embroidery is exquisite! Is your handwriting so lovely?? This is going to be a very interesting, “heavy” quilt…planning on sending it to some big shows???

    • My handwriting is a mess! I used a font from MS Word I liked and printed the words, in very pale ink, on the fabric, then stitched over them. Easy peasy! I’ve never sent a quilt to a show, except my local, non-juried guild show, and I don’t think I ever will. Don’t need the extra stress in my life! 🙂

  17. Great post, Kerry, and a wonderful message. To strong women with not-quite-so-strong needles and the preservation of their unique quilting heritage!

    It’s particularly timely right now, with the uk centenary of women (some at least) getting the vote here. I’m loving this series!

    • Thanks, Sandra! It’s interesting to me how women’s suffrage seemed to be a movement whose time had come. This quilt came started as a celebration of suffrage movement success here in the US. My state, New York, granted the right to vote in 1917.

  18. I love the Nasty Women quote on your quilt. It’s got to be the women that will bring the changes about that we need. At my quilt group when I first started to learn how to quilt, there were women of all ages and sizes. Now there are even groups of men using fabric as artistic expression. I like the idea of being subversive. The person that asked you about your needles must not have done any art of any sort. It’s like expecting a paintbrush to last forever. Your quilt is just stunning but of course you know that.

    • Right now, it does feel like women and young people are going to be the ones to bring about change in our weary land! Working on this quilt reminds me that we women have been at it a long time but that progress is possible!

  19. I actually like to use bent needles, as long as I can get them threaded! They work just the way I want them to… Looks like you’ve gotten a lot more done than I did. Nice work!

    • I don’t mind a needle with a slight bow in it but, when they really get bent, I can’t keep my stitching straight! I’m happy with my progress but I notice a little twinge in my wrist that makes me think i might be overdoing things a bit.

  20. Marvellous, and as others have said, so timely. With the 100th anniversary of women gaining the vote in the UK this year, Elizabeth Warren’s quote is a perfect tribute to the suffragettes too. Btw, have you been watching Alias Grace? I have just finished the series and was fascinated by all the quilting references. Apparently there is even more of this in the book…

    • I made the quilt last year, for the 100 anniversary of New York state granting women the right to vote–I guess we were on the same schedule as the UK! I’ll look into the Alias Grace book. I don’t really watch TV but it sounds interesting to read!

  21. I studied US history in middle school and again in high school as we all did. Forefathers, presidents, blah, blah, blah. Then I attended a community college course called Women’s US History, taught by a professor from Sweden, ironically, and it shifted my perspective forever. I was fascinated and also furious to learn of the things men took credit for, inventions that were created by women among other things. It was fascinating learning that labor unions were the result of women fighting for a 40 hour work week along with getting children out of the factories and into school. You’re an inspiration, like so many that came before you.

    • I feel like a moment has come, where all of a sudden, women are beginning to get their due, or at least a measure of it. I hope what I seeing builds to a big tsunami of powerful women, working for good!

  22. broken needles ARE ruined, but bent ones are just getting good. =) I like that quote, even thought I definitely do not like Hillary Clinton and would in no way ever want to be like her. It’s still a good quote to me, because there are a lot of lovely and determined nasty women in the 150-odd years since fighting for suffrage (and long before -Lysistrata, for instance!), and they come in all colors, shapes and sizes – like those quilters you mentioned. =)

    • I can sew with a slightly bent needle but not ones that get as bad as the ones in the photo! I quite like Hillary and find her admirable but that’s the sort of thing about which reasonable people, like us, may disagree. We can agree that we should admire other strong, fearless women!

  23. That will be one very empowering quilt! I love that quote. And I admire Hillary Clinton. A woman who gets to her position in life is held to much more punishing standards than her male colleagues. That she persevered, despite all that, is reason enough for me to admire her, and the many other women who have had to fight hard for whatever success they have attained.

    • I agree entirely about Hillary. Maybe I have empathy for her because I’ve been told I come across as cold and imperious in professional settings . . . (always by men, of course).

  24. Pingback: Artistic Endeavors – Protest in Art | The Snarky Quilter

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