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Column #79

54 Tons of Quilt

The AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall. Photo by About Washington D.C.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall. Photo by About Washington D.C.

Although it can hardly be deemed a celebration, last year marked the 25th birthday of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Since it was started in 1987, the quilt has grown to include 94,000 names and 48,000 3’ x 6’ panels, each approximately the size of a human grave, and each memorializing someone who has died with the disease. It now measures 1.3 million square feet and it weighs 108,000 pounds, or 54 tons. It is the largest community art project in the world.

In the 25 years since the AIDS Memorial Quilt was first created, HIV/AIDS has reached epidemic proportions throughout the globe. According to a report published jointly by UNAIDS, WHO and UNICEF, based on 2010 data, 34 million adults and children now live with HIV/AIDS, and millions have died because of it.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt has been instrumental in increasing public awareness about HIV/AIDS; it has helped raise over $4 million for AIDS service organizations; and it has been credited with helping to change misinformed and negative attitudes about the disease.

In 1989, it won an Academy Award (for Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, a 1989 documentary by Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman featuring profiles of several people memorialized in the AIDS Quilt). Also in 1989, it was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2005, it received a “Save America’s Treasures” grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. As a visual reminder of AIDS’ continuing human toll, the quilt has been written about, studied, and interpreted in performance time and time again. It is arguably the most famous quilt in the world.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt has been fully displayed only three times: in 1987, 1988, and 1996, and each time was on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Because the quilt is already so enormous and continually growing larger, the only place that it is now possible to see it in one place is the internet.

The Research Division of Microsoft Corporation—partnering with the University of Southern California and the NAMES Project Foundation (the nonprofit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia that serves as the custodian of the AIDS Memorial Quilt)—has created a map of the entire quilt.

The map allows users not only to look at the quilt in its entirety, but because it is fully zoomable, any of the 94,000 names currently on the quilt can be examined as well. It is the largest digitized art quilt in the world.

Those who have made a panel for a lost loved one to include in the AIDS Memorial Quilt invariably say that doing so has helped them navigate the depths of grief. Quilts have been helping their makers heal for a very long time, but it can be said of the AIDS Quilt that it has contributed to more healing than any quilt in the world.

That fact alone is a legacy to be honored.


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Archived blogs:

Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
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

See other archived columns here

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