(Canadian National Exhibition Archives)
In 1992, in Esher Library southwest of London, England, Josephine Andrews and her mom, Christine, collected blankets to donate to Kurdish refugees of the Gulf War.
Among the pile of donations, the 2 ladies found a patchwork quilt that stood out for its vibrant cornflower blue stitches, embroidery and floral patterned materials, in addition to the exceptional material label inscribed by hand: “W. V. S. WINONA CIRCLE GRACE UNITED CHURCH GANANOQUE, ONT. CANADA.”
(Town of Gananoque Civic Collection), Author offered
Made throughout the Atlantic in Ontario throughout the Second World War, this quilt was a historic artifact that the Andrews safeguarded for 3 many years earlier than repatriating it in 2021 to Gananoque, Ont., a small vacationer city east of Kingston with a wealthy army historical past.
The quilt’s repatriation has fuelled the retrieval of further misplaced quilts, every with its personal story to inform. Quilts made of various items of fabric, just like the Winona Circle, inform the story of the ladies’s resourcefulness and inventive capacities within the face of the struggle’s rationing and shortages.
Quilt-making throughout the struggle
During the Second World War, Canadian ladies made an estimated 400,000 quilts, although the Canadian Red Cross’ provincial data of the quilt manufacturing are incomplete with a number of years lacking, and there are in all probability many extra.
These quilts have been shipped abroad to offer consolation not just for the troopers on the entrance strains and in hospitals, however predominantly for British households who had misplaced their properties within the German bombing of England. Today, these surviving quilts are extraordinarily precious for the tales they convey about Canadian ladies’s struggle labour and inventive expression.
The deft but diversified stitching patterns of the Winona Circle quilt inform us that it was the product of a group of struggle quilters. During the mid-Nineteenth century quilting bees rose to prominence as feminized social practices and areas of neighbourly connection.
Quilting bees gained new recognition throughout the First and Second World Wars. Women’s Institutes, the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, the Canadian Red Cross and numerous group and personal teams mobilized ladies and opened make-shift workspaces together with in libraries, properties and colleges for charitable war-time manufacturing.
(Private Collection), Author offered
Telling ladies’s tales
As cultural artifacts, these struggle quilts unearth a myriad of details about their creators and customers. The particulars embedded within the quilts inform a narrative of the ladies’s collective struggle effort. These quilts are a testomony to a broader legacy of Canadian ladies whose volunteer work was sidelined, under-recorded and under-researched after the struggle. As lovely misplaced artifacts, these quilts are a visible emblem of Canadian ladies’s heritage which is simply too usually forgotten within the masculine scholarly accounts of struggle and nation constructing.
The quilts spotlight ladies’s labour throughout world wars. Second World War quilters enormously benefited from the teachings of those that had honed their abilities throughout the First World War, making signature quilts and stitching donors’ names with pink thread into white quilts, echoing the Red Cross model.
Raffled to boost funds for the struggle effort, most of those quilts remained at house within the communities that made them. In distinction, the Second World War quilts have lingered within the shadows of historical past within the recipient nations abroad.
An estimated 300 surviving quilts stay abroad, requiring analysis, evaluation and ideally repatriation. This is a spotlight on the Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre at Toronto Metropolitan University. Research Fellow Joanna Dermenjian has participated within the repatriation of 4 quilts and a workforce is devoted to creating an open entry digital archive.
(Private Collection), Author offered
Letters of gratitude
This effort is a part of a broader feminist scholarly effort to shine a light-weight on Canadian ladies’s struggle labour and heritage. Feminist historian Sarah Glassford has proven that quilting was an exercise that additionally concerned Canadian kids, just like the first-grade department in Ontario, the place members knitted quilt squares at college for the Junior Red Cross throughout the struggle.
These quilts have been despatched abroad to the British kids struggling the consequences of the blitz who in flip despatched letters of gratitude, a few of which have survived in household archives.
By interviewing volunteer quilters throughout newer conflicts, household research students Cheryl Cheek and Robin Yaure have proven that this affective factor is a strong motivation for volunteer quilters. It leaves them with a way that they’re serving to others throughout a tough shared disaster. The recipients’ expressions of gratitude may even assist the donor with the therapeutic of their very own trauma and grief.
In a letter from February 1943, Elsa Dunbar, the Head of the Overseas Department of the Women’s Voluntary Services, thanked the ladies of Gananoque for “the great gaily colored quilts that are so pleasant to have a look at in addition to being so helpful” towards the backdrop of a latest “daylight raid on London.”
The quilts present a testomony to Canadian ladies’s heritage, validating their contributions throughout tough occasions — nonetheless belatedly. They converse of the inventive labour preserving highly effective ladies’s tales of hardship, group assist and humanitarianism. Each of those quilts converse of a gendered story of the Second World War — lengthy misplaced tales that stay to be instructed.
Irene Gammel receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Joanna Dermenjian doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.