Memorials of Satin: Funeral Ribbon Quilts in Context


From Uncoverings 2016, Volume 37 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group


By: Bell-Kite, Diana

Abstract: Gathering satin acetate florist ribbons from the gravesides of deceased loved ones and stitching them into quilts was widespread among working-class Southerners-black and white-from the mid-194os through the early 1970s. Scholars have noted this unique form of commemorative quilting in passing, but have yet to examine the tradition's regionalism, its limited lifespan, and its relationship to wider trends in mid-twentieth century American society. Analyzing twenty-eight such quilts from eight states, along with professional florist literature, public documents, and oral interviews, exposes a distinctive regional culture in the midst of rapid transformation. This contextual study of funeral ribbon quilting reveals how changing memorial practices, growing consumerism, deep-seated frugality, and rapid technological innovation con­verged in the twentieth-century South.

Diana Kite-Bell is an associate curator at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, and an adjunct lecturer in the graduate program in museum studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She holds a master of arts in American history from the College of William & Mary. At the museum, Bell-Kite has curated or co-curated multiple exhibitions, including Everyday Artistry (2008), which spotlighted Tar Heel quilting. The Story of North Carolina (2011), the museum's 20,000-square-foot centerpiece chronological history exhibition, and Made Especially for You by Willie Kay (2016), which chronocles the extraordinay career of North Carolina's preeminent formalwear designer of the twentieth century.