Format Hardcover
Publication Date 05/01/18
ISBN 9781681774176
Trim Size / Pages 9 x 6 in / 416

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An American Quilt

Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rachel May

Following the trail left by an unfinished quilt, this illuminating saga examines slavery from the cotton fields of the South to the textile mills of New England—and the humanity behind it. 

When we think of slavery, most of us think of the American South. We think of back-breaking fieldwork on plantations. We don’t think of slavery in the North, nor do we think of the grueling labor of urban and domestic slaves. Rachel May’s rich new book explores the far reach of slavery, from New England to the Caribbean, the role it played in the growth of mercantile America, and the bonds between the agrarian south and the industrial north in the antebellum era—all through the discovery of a remarkable quilt. While studying objects in a textile collection, May opened a veritable treasure-trove: a carefully folded, unfinished quilt made of 1830s-era fabrics, its backing containing fragile, aged papers with the dates 1798, 1808, and 1813, the words “shuger,” “rum,” “casks,” and “West Indies,” repeated over and over, along with “friendship,” “kindness,” “government,” and “incident.” The quilt top sent her on a journey to piece together the story of Minerva, Eliza, Jane, and Juba—the enslaved women behind the quilt—and their owner, Susan Crouch. May brilliantly stitches together the often-silenced legacy of slavery by revealing the lives of these urban enslaved women and their world. Beautifully written and richly imagined, An American Quilt is a luminous historical examination and an appreciation of a craft that provides such a tactile connection to the past.

Rachel May is the author of Quilting with a Modern Slant, a 2014 Library Journal and Amazon.com Best Book of the Year. Her writing has received multiple awards, and she's been awarded residencies at the Millay Colony and the Vermont Studio Center. She's an assistant professor at Northern Michigan University and lives in Marquette, Michigan.

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Endorsements & Reviews

“Marvelous. May captures the viewpoints and opinions of the creators who have made modern quilting into an enduring form of expression. Belongs in all quilting collections.” Library Journal (starred) [praise for 'Quilting with a Modern Slant']
“May serves as an enthusiastic introducer, teacher, and cheerleader.” Publishers Weekly [praise for 'Quilting with a Modern Slant']