Third annual quilt show at the Kingsessing Tennis Courts brings quilters and quilt lovers together

Jackie and Betsey Carroll give us an inside look at Quilt Circle's third annual quilt show which celebrates the timeless art of communal quilting. Every quilt tells a story and every new quilter adds to the legacy of the many hands and lives that touched and inspired the work. See more than a dozen images of the Quilt Circle and the quilt show at the bottom of this post in a "flip book" format. And let us know how you like the format. Thanks!

Guest Post by Jackie and Betsey Carroll

Quilt Circle hosted its third annual quilt show at the Kingsessing Recreation Park’s tennis court On December 2, 2023. Quilt Circle is a social and artistic group established in 2021 by Celia Jailer, Eli Kleinsmith, and Pierie Korostoff. The group showcased two club-constructed quilts and hosted over fifty local quilt artists at their annual open air gallery.

Quilt Circle's Third Annual West Philadelphia Quilt show
Quilt Circle’s Third Annual West Philadelphia Quilt show

Even though the Philadelphia-based monthly meeting of Quilt Circle is fairly new, the tradition of communal quilting is an American ritual that dates back to the 17th century. For early settlers, making quilts was both utilitarian and creative. Sharing the labor of quilting helped relieve loneliness and isolation that came with household chores. Today, quilting continues to bring people together. Haley Redding, a member of Quilt Circle and fashion designer, commented, “Sewing can be really lonely, but quilting is lovely and unique because you can work on big collaborative projects.” The annual open air gallery follows in the communal spirit of Quilt Circle and welcomes others to view their creations, which may otherwise live strictly within the home.

The idea to revive this custom came to fruition when Jailer met Kleinsmith and discovered their mutual love of quilting. For over thirty years, Kleinsmith’s mother has been an active participant in a Louisville, KY-based quilt circle. Inspired by notions of sociality, collaboration, and artistic experimentation, the pair decided to bring the classic form of the quilt circle to their own community.

Every quilt told a story, whether personal, political, or ancestral. “This is former catholic rage based,” said artist Daire O’Boyle about her nine-paneled quilt displaying a repeated image of a church house on fire. For O’Boyle, quilting is a meditative and somewhat political practice. Her quilt told an urgent yet ancient narrative of resistance towards tyrannical administrations. “I felt really emotional [while working on the quilt]. Just like, so mad about the Catholic empire and other empires that are doing stuff right now, there is a lot of grief coming up for me.”

Every year, Quilt Circle opens submissions to anyone who is in possession of a found quilt or family quilt. Ryan Scails, a fiber arts material studies graduate student at Temple University, attended the show and was enthusiastic about the opportunity to showcase his great-grandmother’s work.

Scails feels that, even though he never met his great-grandmother, there is an unspoken connection between them because of their mutual love of textiles. “I never had a simple conversation with my great-grandmother about sewing or quilting, so it’s really remarkable that this object feels like something I would make. There’s something so utilitarian about it, but it’s also so exploratory and creative.” Ella Cassel (Ryan’s great-grandmother) and her sisters designed the quilt, and it is comprised of fabric that Ella’s sisters brought to her from their hometown of Greenville, N.C., after she relocated North to her Connecticut home. For these sisters, the practice of quilting served a similar purpose it does for Quilt Circle, it brought them together.

Mother and daughter duo Rose Kampert and Ruby Joy Idalee both submitted to the show. Their quilts hung directly across from each other on the tennis court. Kampert constructed her quilt from important pieces of fabric she collected throughout her life, including Idalee’s prom dress and princess printed pjs and her own wedding gown. She included a zine with her quilt submission that showed photos of where each piece of fabric came from. For the mother daughter pair, fiber arts is something they bond over. Ruby Joy commented proudly, “My mom taught me how to sew, she’s a designer, but I taught her how to quilt.”

The creative energy present at the gallery was inspiring. The tradition of designing, chatting, and creating art with your friends is a practice that Quilt Circle is bringing back into vogue. What a treat to see the quilt show!

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Betsey Carroll is a researcher in sociology and photographer in Philadelphia. You can find her work on instagram at @betseycarroll
Jackie Carroll is a performance artist and writer who recently graduated from Villanova. You can find her on instagram at @jackiecarr0ll

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