Making the Quilt

Sewing group

Volunteers were found from each cultural identity to create the 263 diamond shaped textile blocks. Help was provided as needed with design, research and needlework to ensure that each piece reflects the unique beauty and character of the culture depicted.

The Quilt project began in Esther Bryan’s home studio in 1998. With the help of two friends, she crafted a strategic work plan. The three began contacting people who shared her vision and who could bring a variety of skills to join the project.

The former Township offices in Williamstown became the headquarters for the growing project. Numerous speaking engagements by Esther, as well as word of mouth, spread the news about the quilt project in the community, gradually attracting a core group of faithful, enthusiastic volunteers. A Board of Directors was established early on to steer this mammoth multi-year endeavor forward with integrity.

Extensive research, identifying Canada’s many cultural faces, has been the foundation of this project. With assistance from the Assembly of First Nations, Department of Indian Affairs, Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the native groups themselves, listings were compiled of our First Peoples: Métis, First Nations and Inuit. Canada’s immigration records showed that as of January 1st, 2000 at least one person from every country of the world was living in Canada.

It took over 6 years for volunteers to find a representative from each of the 263 cultural groups on the quilt. Thousands of calls, letters and countless visits were made to organizations, immigration centres, native bands, churches, embassies, and individual contacts – in short every possible source was considered. Appeals were also made in the media, needlecraft publications and numerous “in-progress” exhibitions.

Blockmakers were found to create the 9-inch diamond shaped textile “block”.  Volunteers assisted them with materials, design and sewing expertise.  Countless hours of research supplied information on design, fabrics and techniques and provided the historical, cultural context from which to make the artwork and develop texts for books and web-site.

Fundraising was a constant issue, especially in the early years, and the project relied on the proceeds from a yearly gala event, individual donations, newsletter appeals, as well as sponsorships. Block sponsor names are stitched on the back of the quilt block, displayed with the quilt as it tours, listed in our book and on the web in Sponsors. As the project gained credibility corporate sponsorships, grants and job creation programs came through sometimes just in the nick of time.

The planning and making of the body of the Quilt, the 1200 piece border, the tassels, the embroidery of names and the final assembly took place in the project’s Williamstown headquarters and in private homes as volunteers took portions home to work on. The entire process was exciting, often daunting and sometimes downright scary. A small army of dedicated volunteers tackled the challenges of the many supporting tasks, without which the project would have been impossible – the administration, writing, accounting, photography, legal work, grant writing, fundraising, travel, cleaning, exhibition planning and the quiet praying that sustained the project through its journey. Many of these tasks continue as the Quilt of Belonging tours, as requests come in from around the world. Faithful supporters continue to give of their time and talents to ensure that the purposes, the dream that became a reality can continue to be shared.

Volunteers add the final touches
Volunteers add the final touches

Britt Lepa embroiders the Swedish block provide inspiration for the block

Costumes of Maaja Matsoo, Ellen Leivat, Helle Arro inspire their Estonia block

Nunavik fashion designer and blockmaker Vicky Okpik