Projects: International Honor Quilt

In 1980, Judy Chicago and Through the Flower invited the submission of small, triangular quilts honoring women of the quiltmaker's choice. Since that time, approximately six hundred of these colorful creations have traveled with The Dinner Party and, together with registrarial material compiled by Dr. Marilee Schmit Nason, were archived by Through the Flower until 2013. In that year, Through the Flower donated the project, accompanying documentation and material to the University of Louisville and the Hite Art Institute; international quilt expert Shelly Zegart chairs the committee overseeing the project. (See sidebar for further details.)

Over the course of time, the International Honor Quilt has also been known as the International Quilting Bee. We are using its original name here to more accurately reflect the true meaning of the project.

International Honor Quilt

Installation view of the International Honor Quilt from The Dinner Party, Melbourne, Australia, 1988

Unsung heroes

Honor Quilt: Unsung Heroines – Ukrainian Women,
Daria Husar and Natalka Husar
Courtesy Through the Flower archives

Initiated by Judy Chicago when The Dinner Party was exhibited in Houston, TX in 1980, the International Honor Quilt commemorates hundreds of individual women and women's organizations, standing as a monument to womankind by honoring the accomplishments, personalities, individualism, and importance of women throughout history and the world. The women represented are from all over the United States and Canada, as well as from Mexico, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Japan, Scotland, England, Lithuania, Russia, and France.

The women and institutions represented in the International Honor Quilt fall into several categories. Some are memorials to loved or admired individuals; others are testaments to the impact of The Dinner Party on the quilters themselves; still others depict the impact of formal women's groups, businesses, or organizations on the quilter. Regardless of the content or context of the work, each honor quilt is an eminently personal statement about the quilters themselves, about their friends and relatives, and about historical figures who have captured the respect, admiration or imagination of another individual. In a very real way, they are, as one participant pointed out, homages to the "lost women" of history. Whereas on one level the International Honor Quilt stresses the inclusive nature of Judy Chicago's work by inviting any person moved by a woman and her accomplishments to participate in this communal artwork, on another it extricates individual women from anonymity by providing a structured context in which to honor those whose achievements are admired by others.

Honor Quilt: Frida Kahlo, Design by Patricia Velazquez, Courtesy Through the Flower archives

Honor Quilt: Frida Kahlo, Design by Patricia Velazquez, Courtesy Through the Flower archives

: Honor Quilt: Queen Elizabeth II of England, Annette Bergman, Courtesy Through the Flower archives

Honor Quilt: Queen Elizabeth II of England, Annette Bergman, Courtesy Through the Flower archives

Unsung heroes

Honor Quilt: NIADA-National Institute of American Doll Artists, Courtesy Through the Flower archives

After their initial exhibition in Houston, TX, the quilts accompanied The Dinner Party exhibition tour. They have been displayed in Boston, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. In Canada they were exhibited in Montreal, Glenbow, and Toronto. They have traveled to Scotland; London, England; Frankfurt, Germany; and to Melbourne, Australia. At each venue, dozens more honor quilts were added to the collection. By the time The Dinner Party tour was ended, the quilts numbered approximately 600.

Honor Quilt: Frida Kahlo, Design by Patricia Velazquez, Courtesy Through the Flower archives

Honor Quilt: Amy DeCou Bennett, Sandy Broadwell, Courtesy Through the Flower archives

Honor Quilt: Frida Kahlo, Design by Patricia Velazquez, Courtesy Through the Flower archives

Selection of some of the approximately 600 quilts which make up the International Honor Quilt, Courtesy Through the Flower archives

The triangles combine a variety of media and techniques. Some employ traditional quilting materials in tradition patterns such as meaningful scraps of fabric gathered from family heirlooms and pieced in log cabin, crazy quilt, or windmill designs. In addition, many quilts use traditional decorative elements such as top stitching, needlepoint, bargello, trapunto, and embroidery. Other quilts rely on integrating mixed media in innovative techniques, juxtaposing photographic transfers, handmade felts, and handmade papers with wire, plastics, ceramic beads, metallic meshes, glass, wood, shells, stones and feathers. Several quilts are imaginative collages incorporating favorite items of the person honored.

Some of the honor quilts are executed by professional quilters, seamstresses and artists, but the great majority are made by inexperienced artisans who bring together items of interest to them and their themes. Although often naive in their elaboration, all are heartfelt representations of, and memorials to, women that have touched those around them. Viewed individually, many of the pieces are not quilts in the traditional sense. But, when pieced together, they form a whole quilt by melding a variety of materials in an overall, mutable, array of tributes to the significant contributions of individual women, to the reaffirmation of women's experience, and to the heritage of womankind.