Book Review: Sewing & Survival– Native American Quilts from 1880 – 2022

An amazing book has landed on my desk a couple of months ago–and I am fascinated by it.

Sewing & Survival is an historical overview of Native American quiltmaking that adds to our knowledge of historical and contemporary quiltmaking.   (Purchase your copy here.)

The author, Teresa Duryea Wong, is an accomplished quilt historian, writer, lecturer and an amazing quilter.   Find out more about Teresa here and see some of her intricately pieced improvisational quilts here.

My Reflections

Teresa and I have corresponded and I have followed her work on social media, read some of her earlier books and so forth.  I always found her to be thoughtful and respectful of all communities and their cultural and historical legacies.  The book has many well photographed quilt examples along with other historical photos.

I loved the ‘myth busting’ that starts off the book because the myths about Native American sewing and quiltmaking are so very similar to assumptions about African American quilting traditions.  Her first point is that Native Americans were sewing before the arrival of Europeans and that there is enormous diversity in Native American cultures.  So, not all Native Americans made and make  Star quilts…and not all African Americans made and make improvisational quilts.

Her book links quiltmaking to the difficult history of Native Americans, in particular with her exploration of the boarding schools where quiltmaking was taught to many girls and women.   Teresa also explores the work of contemporary quilters like Susan Hudson who are dedicated to exposing and preserving the past with their art.

Book Summary:

Indigenous Americans have been sewing, weaving, making pottery and other crafts for thousands of years. Starting in the late 1800s, a fascinating shift took place as some makers turned their needle skills to quilting. To uncover the story of how quilting arts first took hold in the 19th century requires a look-back at a tumultuous period of American history to a time when Native American culture was under attack. Indigenous lands were taken away, missionaries swarmed onto reservations, children were forced into off-reservation boarding schools, and there were countless injustices forced on Native individuals. Remarkably, in spite of this chaos, quilting emerged as a preferred form of needlearts, and this book will explain how that transformation happened. Sewing & Survival is a thoroughly researched narrative based on original sources, diaries, personal letters, and other notes highlighting Native American voices. While quilting skills were forced on some women, others came to quilting willingly. Equally compelling is the fact that quilting remains popular in Native communities today, and in fact, quilts are the cornerstone of Indigenous give-away traditions. In addition, numerous makers have turned their artistic talent to creating gorgeous contemporary art quilts and powerful story quilts that are coveted by museums and collectors.


Purchase her books here.



Smithsonian Magazine Article on Native American Quilts HERE

To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions.  This book of essays documented the Smithsonian exhibit of Native American and Hawaiian quiltmaking.   Amazon shop

Learn about Susan Hudson in this Craft in America episode.    Also, check out this interview on Quilters Take a Moment 2021.

National Museum of the American Indian Site


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