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Column #34

Inspired by Tradition

Sankofa, which means "Learn from the Past" by Donnette Cooper. The quilt features the Adinkra symbol called Sankofa. According to Wikipedia,"The Akan people of Ghana use an Adinkra symbol to illustrate the proverb, 'It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.' It symbolizes one taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress through the benevolent use of knowledge."


Masks and Stripes by Donnette Cooper.

Donnette Cooper, an Assistant Attorney General for the District of Columbia, is a Jamaican-born quilter who finds inspiration in both African textiles and traditional American quilt patterns, combining the two to form a style that is uniquely hers.

Although she does not come from a quilting background, Cooper feels at home around anything to do with textiles. The daughter of a tailor, she grew up around fabric, and her grandmother taught her to sew. Her brother is a promoter in the fashion industry in the Caribbean, and she and her sister are both “fashionistas” with a special love of indigenous textiles, particularly those from Africa. An inveterate traveler, she collects fabrics whenever she visits different countries.

“Piecing fabrics together—we call it patchwork—is very much a part of life in Jamaica,” Cooper says. “We make patchwork spreads that are knotted and tied, but we don’t use batting to make a quilt. It’s too hot!”

According to Cooper, batik is also very popular in Jamaican culture. “I learned to do batik in high school, and then I taught elementary students to do it as well when I worked as a teacher.” Since Cooper began quilting, she also uses batiks and other fabrics that she dyes herself in her quilts. In addition, she employs such traditional elements as prairie points and yo-yos, which she says she “imported from her childhood.”

She adds that the Log Cabin block is the basis for a lot of her quilts because it allows her to improvise. “I decide on the center fabric—maybe a mask fabric or something with Adinkra symbols from Ghana—and then I ‘audition’ other fabrics to see how they go along. I don’t tend to measure, and sometimes I end up with a mess! But the African fabrics talk. They express the vast traditions, values, and artistic talents of the African people. And I want to reconnect with that and show it in my quilts.

“Although I have explored very structured, precise block construction such as various Star and Basket designs—primarily when involved in group projects over the years—my preference is working with patterns that lend themselves to spontaneous variations, patterns that allow me to vary the fabric selection, shape, and size while preserving the essence of an original design concept,” Cooper continues. “I like to explore scrappy, recycled pieces harmonized by an overarching design framework. Consequently, I like the Log Cabin, Rail Fence, and Roman Square.”

She also finds inspiration in traditional American string or strip quilts. Not only do string quilts allow her to use leftover fabrics from other sewing projects, but they also strike a deep chord with her African heritage, as they recall the appearance of dyed and woven African textiles.

“I belong to the Daughters of Dorcas & Sons Guild* in D.C., and I owe a lot to its late founder and president Viola Canady.  She mentored me as a neophyte quilter and generously shared her knowledge, skills and experiences,” Cooper says. “She is well regarded for her extensive and sophisticated body of work, she never forgot her roots. She introduced me to her North Carolina strip piecing tradition. She explained that when she started to quilt as a child, new fabric was not affordable and people used scraps left over from sewing jobs, recycled feed bags, and de/reconstructed old clothing. Extremely small pieces of fabric were held together by newspaper foundation piecing. That tradition resonated with me and I have since employed newspaper, tissue paper and inexpensive fabric as the foundation for many of my quilt blocks.”


*The Daughters of Dorcas & Sons Guild is the oldest largely African-American quilt guild in the United States. ("& Sons" was added to the name after three men joined the group.) Founded in 1980 by Viola Canady, a retired Army seamstress, the guild is named for Dorcas, a seamstress in the New Testament who made clothes for the poor.

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Archived blogs:

Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor

See other archived columns here


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