An Original Series Celebrates Innovative Women

Paper Doll Quilts“Some people just never grow up,” says Rebekka Seigel when she explains how she came to create her collection of 12 paper doll quilts.

Rebekka recalls many childhood hours spent cutting out and dressing dime store paper dolls. After learning about quiltmaking as an adult, it seemed natural to translate her fascination with paper dolls into fabric dolls.

Her first paper doll quilt illustrated the life of Phyllis George, wife of then Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown. And from that, the series grew.

“I wanted to recognize the substantial contributions of women from my mother’s and grandmother’s eras who reconfigured the accepted definition of women’s work Ñ the women took off their aprons and tested the boundaries of what society thought women were capable of doing,” Rebekka says.

Here is a sample of Rebekka’s paper doll quilts. For more of Rebekka’s story and more of her quilts, see the November/December issue of Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting magazine.

Martha Graham
Size: 65 ” by 90 “
Although her career didn’t begin until she was 22 years old, dancer and choreographer Martha Graham pioneered a new form of dance. Her stylized movements shared many ideals of the abstract art movement of the early twentieth century, particularly those of impressionist painter Wassily Kandinsky. Graham thought that Kandinsky’s use of form, color and line expressed feelings that she was also trying to convey through her dance movements. Rebekka connects the two artists in this quilt about Graham’s career by borrowing from Kandinsky’s style in the abstract design of the quilt. In addition to creating dance forms, Graham designed many of the costumes she wore, which Rebekka includes. For her achievements, Graham was awarded the first presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976.

Barbara Jordan
Size: 90 ” by 84 “
Rebekka happened to be researching Barbara Jordan’s life on September 11, 2001. The attacks on the United States prompted her to incorporate the American flag into this quilt about the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress from the South. Jordan ran on a platform of civil rights and was elected first to the Texas State Senate and then, in 1973, to the U.S. House of Representatives. Her own eloquent words appear on the quilt. After serving in Congress, Jordan continued to teach and to support humanitarian causes.

Jean Ritchie
Size: 56 ” by 80″
Renowned for her authentic folk music, Kentucky native Jean Ritchie learned to sing from her father, accompanying herself on the mountain dulcimer, played with a turkey feather. After graduating with honors from the University of Kentucky, Ritchie joined the folk music movement in 1940s New York, where other admirers of traditional music discovered her. Now in her 80s, Ritchie has contributed to the music world as a performer, author, recording artist, composer and folk music collector. Rebekka’s quilt includes the lyrics to several songs Ritchie sang, including, “and through eternity, I’ll sing on.”

Margaret Mead
Size: 69 ” by 90 “
Rebekka uses a journal entry format in this quilt relating the life of Margaret Mead. Studying anthropology that focused on women and children around the world, Mead traveled extensively to live among her subjects and come to understand their culture. Her headquarters was New York City’s Museum of Natural History, where she was known as the “Queen Bee.” Although he never credited Mead with changing his mind, Dr. Benjamin Spock became a proponent of breastfeeding after Mead chose to breastfeed her child in the face of a bottle-feeding culture. Spock was the child’s pediatrician. Rebekka reflects Mead’s influence on society in general with the label “Mother of the World.”

Louise Nevelson
Size: 62 ” by 88 “
Artist Louise Nevelson said, “I feel the clothes that I have worn all my life have been a stamp of freedom because I have never conformed to what is being worn.” Nevelson dressed in her own mode — uniquely and ostentatiously. She also became a sculptor when it was considered a man’s field of artistry, and went without recognition for her work until she was in her 50s. In this quilt, Rebekka mimics elements of Nevelson’s work, “Dawn’s Cathedral,” in which Nevelson explored the play of light and shadow on stacked boxes filled with wood fragments.

Lucy Martin Lewis
Size: 83 ” by 92 “
Lucy Martin Lewis, a member of the Antelope Clan of the Acoma Pueblo Indian tribe, was a skilled potter, recognized for enriching and preserving cultural designs. She was especially adept at creating fine line designs, and maintained tradition in her work by grinding ancient potshards to reuse in her pottery. The borders on this quilt are suggestive of Anasazi designs from Lucy’s ancestors.

Rachel Carson
Size: 62 ” by 84 “
Rachel Carson helped awaken the world to the importance of maintaining a healthy ecology. Trained as a biologist, she was the first woman to take and pass the U.S. Civil Service test for employment by the federal government. While working for the Bureau of Fisheries, Carson wrote pamphlets and books about the sea. This quilt recognizes her first book, The Sea Around Us. Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, heralded the beginning of the environmental movement

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