One of the questions I am most frequently asked when I give tours of the Journey to the White House Quilt (or J2WH for shorthand - see the title of this post) is about the many symbols included in the quilt. I could go through and give the details, but I think Dr. Gaither does a much better job than I ever could for obvious reasons.
"The purple fabric around the edge signifies spirituality and protection. The green is the color for life, a life-giving color. And those tassels on the end that are covered up are all green as well – for life. And then as you come in all of these fabrics are from Africa and they represent the motherland.
Then as you go around it, there’s a whole line of safety pins that signify the pain of being pulled from the motherland in slavery so that’s what these pins are for. Then just beyond that is the blue fabric which is the Middle Passage representing the water. The red and the black represent the lives that were lost in the Middle Passage.
And this purple, this big rope right here that is covered with the Stars and Stripes, I borrowed that idea from Faith Ringgold, who is a quilter and she usually puts this on the outside edge to anchor the quilt to give them some body. But this, it signifies being brought into the U.S. and being trapped in this space.
Just beyond that is the railroad fabric which has become sort of my signature piece of fabric and that here recognizes and honors the Underground Railroad. And on it, in this case for Barack Obama, every other box here represents, with the green around it, life – life experiences or highlights in his life starting from when he was born over there, coming all the way around. And then the other squares are pieces of legislation that are tied to his name while he was in the Senate. So when people say 'What did he do,' well he did a lot. So all of these things are here."
The video clip above is Dr. Gaither talking about the border of the quilt which is a component of all of the quilts in her American Series. It was taken during the quilting session on 11 January 2009 at the Bates Legacy Center in Annapolis while people were adding their own stitches to the quilt. The image below is a close up of someone adding a few finishing touches to the quilt border before it was displayed on the wall at the Banneker-Douglass Museum. The image quality below will allow you to see some of the fine details of the border.
Note to viewers: The video quality isn't very high and the volume level is fairly low. Enjoy!