Quilters in Black History

quilters in black history

Quilting is a form of storytelling, with each stitch representing a piece of a larger narrative. Quilts are used to document family history, commemorate events, and express cultural values. Through the combination of pattern, color, and texture, quilts can tell stories about the lives of the people who made them, their communities, and the times in which they lived. They often serve as physical representations of memories and experiences that can be passed down from generation to generation.

respected quilters in black history

Black American quilters have a rich history dating back to the 17th century. They have used quilting as a means of expression, storytelling, and preserving cultural traditions. During slavery, quilting was an important form of communication and a way to express personal creativity. After slavery, quilting continued to play a significant role in Black American communities, with quilts often being passed down from generation to generation. Here are a few notable quilters in Black history whose work continues to inspire fiber artists today.

Harriet Powers

Harriet Powers

Harriet Powers lived in rural Georgia during the late 19th century. She is best known for her intricate quilts that combined traditional African American quilting techniques with biblical storytelling and personal & cultural references. Her two surviving quilts are considered some of the finest examples of American folk art and are housed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. 

Mary Lee Bendolph quilt

Mary Lee Bendolph

Mary Lee Bendolph is a quilter from Gee’s Bend, Alabama, a community that was isolated and segregated to limit their opportunity to vote. Quilting was a family affair, and every quilt tells the story of the community that made it together. She is known for her vibrant, improvisational quilts that reflect the cultural heritage of her community and her own personal experiences. Bendolph is considered one of the foremost quilters of the Gee’s Bend community, with a distinctive style of quilting that blends African American, European American, and African textiles and techniques. Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States, and has been recognized for its unique artistic and cultural contributions to the quilting tradition.

rosie lee tompkins quilt

Rosie Lee Tompkins

Rosie Lee Tompkins was an African American quilter from Richmond, California. She was known for her improvisational style of quilting that blended traditional African American quilting techniques with her own unique vision. Tompkins’ quilts are characterized by their use of bright, contrasting colors, bold patterns, and unexpected combinations of shapes and designs. She often combined a variety of different fabrics, ranging from silk to sequined to faux fur, to create unique designs. Despite her recognition as one of the most important quilters of her generation, Tompkins lived much of her life in obscurity and her work was not widely known outside of her community until later in her life. Today, her quilts are highly valued for their artistic and cultural significance and are held in the collections of museums and institutions around the world.

bisa butler quilt

Bisa Butler

Bisa Butler is an American fiber artist and quilter. She creates large-scale, colorful and textured quilts that depict the Black American experience, including historical and cultural references, as well as larger-than-life quilted portraits. She uses fabric the way others use a paintbrush to create designs that are full of life. Her quilts are known for their vibrant colors, intricate designs, and emotional impact. This combination of technical skill, historical significance, and aesthetic appeal has earned her recognition as one of the leading artists in the field of fiber arts, and has helped to bring attention to the genre as a whole. Butler’s work has been widely exhibited at prestigious institutions such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.


These quilters have made significant contributions to the field of quilting and have helped to preserve and promote the art form. We hope that their stories and art will inspire you to tell your story with fabric. What will you make with Fairfield at the heart of your project?

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