The Importance of Quilt Labels (Make your own with an AccuQuilt GO! Fabric Cutter)
Oral history is a wonderful thing. What’s more fun than sitting around with family and friends sharing stories and memories? Laughter and tears and shared experiences are the ultimate glue, the bond that ties us to one another.
But stories change over time. Remember the “Telephone” game at birthday parties? And perhaps sadder than changing a detail here or there, as happens in that game, is that stories not written down fade away.
Oh, yes – when they are told in song form, committed to music so the words “stay stuck,” oral tales hang around a very long time. Think of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” It’s the connection between words and music that have made that story stay with us. Lyrics. Written words.
Inked and Attached Quilt Labels. This inked and attached-to-the-back quilt label for Bert’s Quilt has more geographic information than most labels do. (See the complete quilt below).
So it is with quilts. When you make a gift of love for a family member or for a friend, you know the quilt’s story by heart. No doubt you share it just that way, with words loaded with meaning and the recipient will have fond memories of receiving the quilt – memories that overlay and dilute your story of making and giving the quilt.
How often have we experienced or heard stories like this: ‘My grandmother made this Double Wedding Ring quilt for the marriage of one of my aunts. I’m not sure which aunt but she was married during World War II, I think.’
Herein lies the marvelous value of attaching quilt labels to every quilt you make. Imagine this label on the same quilt: ‘Made by Elizabeth Sidwell Smith for her daughter Agnes Marie on the occasion of her wedding, October 10, 1933, in Provincetown, Mass., to Edward Henry Adams.’
Twenty-six words vault that quilt from hundreds of the “nice to look at” Double Wedding Ring quilts made in that era to “documented American history” and “treasured family heirloom.”
Adding ‘Scraps from family dresses’ sheds instant light on a close group of people that came together in a difficult time to create a celebratory moment for one of their own.
Quilted Label: Stitching the marriage information onto the front of this anniversary quilt (Carolina Roses) preserved its integrity. The computer-printed fabric quilt labels on the quilt’s back faded over time. (Complete quilt below).
And the great thing about quilt labels is that they can take many forms, any form – they are just as much a place for creativity as the entire quilt.
You can ink, embroider, stitch, quilt, paint, computer print, attach, use embellishments and photos. Space available for labeling include patches, blocks, sashing, borders, the binding, the back, the sleeve, a pocket sewn either front or back to hold a precious letter/label. Quilt labels can be flashy or discreet, plain or fancy, part of the design or intended to blend in so as to constitute a treasure hunt. One word of advice: Make labels difficult to erase, remove or cover to discourage theft.
And the label contents? Boy howdy, they can be anything, in any form: Poetry, journalism, abstract art like hieroglyphics, minimalist name-state-date, museum acquisition information – the sky is the limit for you, the maker, when it comes to labels.
I’ve looked at thousands of quilts in my career, judged another several thousand, and interviewed countless quilt makers, appraisers and collectors in addition to the quilt book authors I edited. I can absolutely tell you this: A label on your quilt vastly improves anything and everything about it. You grant your quilt instant posterity and meaning that is otherwise lost in the soft accents of the stories we tell one another. What you remember is what I forget.
Labeling your quilt is not bragging. It is simply giving everyone who comes along to see it or hang it or collect it or love it to pieces the most accurate description you could provide at the moment of its creation. Make the label. Make it one that fits. That fits the quilt, the occasion, the feeling, the process, the recipient, current history, your hope for the future, and you. Just. Label. It.
Inked Sleeve Label: Following Gwen Marston’s habit of writing on the hanging sleeve, this label was made for Braxton’s Fish Quilt in honor of my late nephew. (Quilt detail below)
A few quilt label ideas:
- Include your full name (all of the parts of your name, whether you’re married, single, partnered, divorced, remarried, or some where else on the continuum of human relationships). Nicknames count.
- The recipient’s name in as much detail as you can muster. (Sometimes, as with charity quilts or those meant for military service members or infants, there is no knowing who will receive your quilt. And sometimes places have “one size fits all” labels and rules. These should be followed.)
- The time span during which the quilt was created.
- Why you made the quilt.
- What materials are in the quilt. Associated: How the quilt should be cared for.
- Where you lived, where the recipient lives.
- How you felt while making the quilt.
- Other things that happened in your life, in the world, to the recipient.
UFO (unfinished project) humor is priceless on quilt labels: ‘I made this for my first baby. He’s graduating from high school next month and I hope it’s finished by then.’ Or, for the speedy ones among us: ‘It was snowing when I started this quilt. Still snowing as I sew the binding and label. Went by in a hurry. All seven years.’
No one is likely to create a label containing all of this, and not every quilt needs it, so no remarks about how huge a label this would have to be, please.
What matters is that you think through the value and importance of labeling even those quilts for the kids/grand kids/dog bed you expect to be loved to death in a short while. Your work counts for something. Your love of quilting is a Big Deal in our culture of producing art and love in one fell swoop.
For most makers of quilts, much of the pleasure is in the creative process, the journey of making some thing with our hands, passing time productively, maybe learning a new skill, as well as the joy of giving or using the finished project. By their very nature textiles are rarely long-lasting artifacts of our lives, loves, hopes, sorrows, dreams.
And while a quilt is with us, it deserves to be known as truly for everyone else as it was for you. Labels do that.
One last thing: Don’t be like me. I routinely forget to photograph the label. Makers deserve to have that moment captured for posterity, too.
Bert's Quilt Made by Andi Reynolds
Detail: Braxton's Fish Quilt made by Andi Reynolds
By Andi Reynolds
After near five years as the executive book editor for the American Quilter’s Society, Andi Reynolds retired and has resumed the freelance life. She spends her time writing, quilting, cooking, and obeying the commands of her large dogs Lucky and Mousse. Her husband Dennis is the beloved co-leader of the pack. They live in Paducah, KY.
Cut Your Own Quilt Labels
Cut out your own quilt labels AND your entire quilt with the GO! Fabric Cutter.