Jennifer Graham is the Exhibitions Assistant and Photographer for the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, which houses the largest publicly owned collection of quilts in the world. Jennifer’s monthly column, Quilty Pleasures, will highlight what’s happening at the museum, and in the world of quilts.
How long have you been involved in the world of stitch?
I’ve been pricking my fingers with pins and needles for as long as my toys, pets and siblings have needed fabulous accessories and home furnishings. In other words, I’ve been cutting up fabric and pinning it together for almost my whole life. My first Girl Scout badge was in sewing.
I really got serious about things in 2006, when I started my graduate program in textile design. Since then, I’ve been teaching around the United States and working at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Department of Textiles, Clothing & Fashion Design, where I started in the windowless world of collections photography, and have since moved my way into exhibit design and installation.
What is your favourite thing about stitchery?
For me, stitchery represents everyday creativity. We humans have been poking holes and stitching through them for almost as long as we’ve had thumbs. Stitchery connects us to a long line of women (and men) who took up needle and thread and just made something happen, whether it was a shirt for the baby, a rug for the floor, or something monumental, like the AIDS quilt. We need that kind of connection.
What do you make of the modern craft scene?
I love how the modern craft world has been propelled so quickly by the internet. I come from the middle of the United States, where exotic fabrics, fibers, threads and findings used to be half a world away. Now, I can bring the world to me, and my work isn’t limited to what’s at the local fabric shop.
Do you have any unusual talents we might not know about?
Well, I do have a talent for growing long, straight hair, which I use in my creative work. I use my own hair for embroidery on silk organza, and I embed it in patterns in my handmade paper, which I also stitch. It creeps people out, but I think of hair as a holding place for the past. If you look at a person’s hair, you can see what they’ve eaten, where they live, how often they bathe—the works! Taking that a step further, the poet in me thinks of hair as the repository of memory, and so hair can represent the sadness, the loss, and the joy we’ve experienced while it’s just lying around growing out of our heads.