9-11 Quilts: Remembering 20 Years Ago

Like many people living in post 9-11 America, and others the world over, you might remember exactly where you were when you learned of the tragedy that befell the victims of 9-11.

You may have seen footage of it on your breaking morning news that day, or you may have heard about it in your car, on the radio, or on your way to work.

You may have been in school while your teachers tried to make sense of it all and keep everyone calm, as scarce and confusing details rolled in. You may have even known someone who was directly affected by the attack.

The events of that day were felt by all, and they continue to resonate with such strength and profundity that they are still felt today, 20 years later.

From the immediate aftermath, to the health issues still threatening first responders (even after all this time), to the pivotal acts of legislation and permanent alterations to our nation’s senses of trust and personal safety that arose from the attack—almost no one is left unaffected by this kind of far-reaching tragedy.

Commemorating 9-11

When acts of destruction descend upon us, often shaking the faith we have in each other and in our understanding of what it means to be just, sometimes a simple act of creation can help us cope.

It can remind us of why we’re here, and what it means to work together to solve problems and heal wounds. When we create, we stand as bulwarks against those deeds that accomplish the opposite.

One area of artistic expression that gained popularity after 9-11 was sewing handmade, commemorative quilts, which worked as objects of both beauty and function.

A quilt carries obvious symbolism with it—a quilt is made to comfort and to keep someone warm. A quilt makes someone feel loved and seen. We often associate the gift of a quilt with the birth of a child, or with the passing down of a meaningful heirloom, carried from generation to generation.

Quilting as an Art Form

Currently on display at the National Quilt Museum are a number of stunning, memorable, impactful 9-11 quilts—some made by individuals, some made by entire communities of people who came together to share and express their feelings through the application of their considerable skill sets. Every piece of fabric, every careful stitch, and every meticulous seam is made with purpose.

  • In one 9-11 quilt, hefty, durable, untearable fabrics are used to symbolize the enduring nature of the New York sky line. They show that no attack can break its spirit.
  • In another, beautiful components are sourced sustainably from all over the world to symbolize the solidarity felt by those in other nations who have survived through similar experiences, and by whose example we can all grow together.
  • Another 9-11 quilt includes one square to represent each life lost and adds layers to represent the first responders who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives in the performance of their daily acts of heroism.

What It Means for You

Each of these works of art are made with two, common purposes in mind. First, they are meant to help us remember. You might be saying, how could we forget? And you would have a point. We can’t, and we wouldn’t.

But when we share our memories with one another, as 9-11 quilts and other commemorative works often cause us to do, we gain the opportunity to heal together, too. We cease being islands, remembering alone, and we come together to begin to form a truly contiguous nation. That’s the second purpose.

Making a commemorative quilt isn’t just about sending messages of remembrance, respect, and compassion, it’s also a way for ordinary people to express themselves.

It’s a way for people to gain a sense of community. Quilting can be done alone, but it’s most commonly associated with working in groups. In a literal sense, the act of quilting creates the kind of community it seeks to support.

Canvas ETC Remembers with You

With travel restrictions and sporadic quarantine measures becoming constant features of our everyday lives, the 20 year anniversary of 9-11 seems all the more poignant.

Each of these events are associated with times of uncertainty with world altering ramifications, and they compel us to find any little refuge we can to help us make it through.

Some people make sourdough. Some binge on Netflix. But luckily for those fabric lovers out there, like us, quilting is making a huge comeback, too.

Quilting alone can be like meditation—except at the end, you have a beautiful product you made with your own hands. Quilting in a group can be a way to make new friends and learn about others in the process. Those are all outcomes worthy of the remembrance we share today.

However you choose to remember, we’re all in this together.