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Special thanks for lots of hard work and hours assembling this quilt goes to:

Susan Bostian Young
Sharon Luehring, owner of Stitcher’s Crossing
Karen Silvers
Cathi Manchester
Beth Schmitz

The final home for this quilt has not be determined yet. Once it is we will post the information.

Thanks to anyone who was generous enough to help embroider a square for our quilt! Working on this project has been an amazing experience.

Andrea Miller, Project Coordinator


If you see your work but your name is not listed, please let us know who you are! See more squares here, here, here, here and here. Read more about the project here.

We’re thrilled to see the variety and creativity of our volunteer embroiderers! See more squares here, here, here and here. Read more about the project here.

Historic photographs can show us rare, fleeting moments of craft in action. We found lots of fantastic examples of Wisconsin women sewing, knitting, and crocheting through Wisconsin Historical Images and the State of Wisconsin Collection; here are some we didn’t have space to include in the gallery.

Katherine (Kate) Quinney crocheting while seated on the running board of a Ford Model T in the yard of her family's farm in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, ca. 1915. Wisconsin Historical Society WHi-70918

Six women sewing by hand and with a sewing machine, Black River Falls, 1901. Photograph by Charles Van Schaick. Wisconsin Historical Society WHi-46107

A Neenah-Menasha sewing club meeting, ca. 1914. Neenah Public Library via University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

Ada Bass crocheting with Llora, Montello, Wisconsin, ca. 1900. Photograph by Dr. Edward A. Bass. Wisconsin Historical Society WHi-47072

Julia Ann Wilcox Newell with her knitting, Kenosha, 1880-1896. Photograph by Louis Milton Thiers. Kenosha History Center via University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

Mrs. A. Van Wyck, Kenosha, 1880-1914. Photograph by Louis Milton Thiers. Kenosha History Center via University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

If you haven’t yet turned in your square for our Community Embroidery Project, there’s still time! See more of the great examples we’ve received so far here, here, and here. If you see your work but your name is not listed, please let us know who you are!

The Handmade Meaning exhibition closes this week! We’re giving it a special send-off with a free gallery tour this Sunday, February 6, at 12:30 pm. After the tour, the Wisconsin Historical Museum will host a free, public exhibition reception and presentation titled “History through Women’s Hands,” two conversations about women’s craft work in the early 20th century.

The presentation will focus on the story of the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association and the work of Mt. Horeb china painter Hazel Miller Hanneman. Presenters include Nicolas Reynolds, historian for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin; Nancy Marie Mithlo, UW–Madison Departments of Art History and American Indian Studies; Brian Bigler, president, Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society; and Lynette Korenic, art historian and director of the Kohler Art Library, UW–Madison. Both of these conversations will exemplify some of the important questions asked in the exhibition, including how craft was learned and shared, whether craft was a simple pastime or serious occupation, and the role of craft in shaping cultural identity.

Agenda for the afternoon’s events:

12:30-1:15–tour and talk in the James Watrous Gallery, Overture Center
1:15-1:30–move from gallery to Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Capitol Square
1:30-2:00–introductions, refreshments at the Museum
2:00-2:30–Conversation 1-Lyn Korenic and Brian Bigler on china painting
2:30-3:00–Conversation 2-Nancy Mithlo and Nic Reynolds on lace making
3:00-3:30–presentation of Community Embroidery Project

The reception will include a display of the redwork quilt squares created for our Community Embroidery Project. If you volunteered to embroider a square, please bring it along to share!

On Sunday afternoon, January 22, three of the artists participating in Handmade Meaning gathered at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art for a panel discussion moderated by Beverly Gordon of the Design Studies department at UW-Madison. We had a great turnout in spite of the momentous Packers-Bears game going on at the same time!

Gordon asked each panelist to speak about how she views her own work in relation to turn-of-the-century women’s handwork.  Susan Johnson White described how her Idle Hands performance is physically tied to the handwork of previous generations of women through the incorporation of tools and a pattern book that belonged to her female ancestors. Anne Kingsbury discussed the meditative aspect of creating her highly detailed beadwork and the idea that Victorian women likely experienced a similar sense of connection and mindfulness in their craft work. Cortney Heimerl considered the high levels of skill and technique valued by Victorian makers in contrast to the current D.I.Y./indie craft movement, which emphasizes that anyone can try their hand at making things, no matter their skill level.

Check out photos of the event on the UW-Madison Material Culture program’s blog.

Great contributions continue to come in for the Community Embroidery Project. See previous squares here and here.

More squares completed for the Community Embroidery Project. View the first group of contributions here.

Artist Chris Walla’s ongoing Hanky Project, featured in Handmade Meaning, is a series of colorful cotton bandannas embroidered with silhouettes of male figures borrowed from pin-up images. The bandannas reference the “hanky code” used by many gay men in the 1970s and 80s as a non-verbal means to communicate sexual preferences. The use of embroidery, a craft historically associated with women, is central to the work. As Walla puts it, “I wanted the ‘making’ of these pieces to refer to the hand-made needlepoint and embroidery practiced by women of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for their hope chests.”

Chris Walla, Hanky Project (detail), 2006.

Artist Statement
Our desire to communicate with others, the yearning to be understood, and the ambiguity of what lies between is the current focus of my work.  How we speak, hear, and assimilate both visual information and language is often the genesis of many of my pieces.

I am dyslexic. At times written language has been nothing but abstract.  This experience had a profound impact on me, and it is why I chose to be an artist.  Forms and objects have always served as ways for me to communicate without written and verbal language. What is of primary interest to me as an artist now is the disjuncture between the material and the abstract.  How do we perceive language when it becomes form? How do space and the rendering of that form impact our understanding of the meaning of that language?

Discourse and debate are fundamental to the progression of our ideas as a society. If we do not engage in a dialogue we are left only with unrealized potential.  The unspoken is an impotent promise that provokes no intellectual or emotional evolution. This is why I often choose representations of text or singular words rather than actual language; these representations tend to be neutral or empty. My approach to making objects is wide and varied.  I have employed embroidery to wood fabrication to metalwork in my pieces.  What is most important to me is that the material choices serve the concept.

My goal for my work is for it to exist in an ambiguous space between social critique and formal aesthetics allowing for open interpretation, and, because it occupies the terrain of the familiar, a more subversive reading.

–Chris Walla

Chris Walla, Hanky Project, 2006.

Walla received his MFA in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Minnesota. See more of his work at

Handmade Meaning

An exhibition investigating the connections between Victorian women's fancywork and contemporary Wisconsin craft. At the James Watrous Gallery, Madison, Wisconsin, December 17, 2010-February 6, 2011.