Thursday, October 27, 2011

Crafting My Heritage

Amanda's Tartan Quilt

I've been reading recently about how many Americans of European descent often pick and chose their ethnic or cultural affiliation. So many of us come from "mixed" backgrounds, that it is impossible to identify with them all. Most of these cultural groups then recreate or invent traditions associated with their chosen homelands in order to maintain connections with it. In effect, Americans craft their past.

In 1992, I literally crafted my past by creating the quilt pictured above. Some years previous, my mother had given me the tartan sample book from my grandfather's Scottish import shop. Why did I take them? I recognized immediately that the tartan samples were perfect quilt squares. The book, however, was big and bulky, so I ripped out all the squares and ended up with a tiny tower of tartan.

When I finally got around to making the quilt, I asked my dad how I should organize them. He said, "Alphabetically." "Great," I thought, "I don't remember what any of them are called." Luckily, I tripped across a copy of Tartans: Their Art and History by Ann Sutton and Richard Carr. My father and I then spent countless evenings matching up  squares with their pictures in the book, ticking them off one by one, slowly dismantling the tartan tower. Our matching project was reasonably successful and the tartans are all organized alphabetically until you get to the fourth row from the bottom. If you look closely in the fifth row from the bottom you will notice a Dress Royal Stewart square, the one immediately below it is the first unknown pattern.

I took the quilt with me when I went to graduate school in London, when I moved to Ohio from California, and when I went to Glasgow to pursue my Ph.D. Although in the latter case, it was a bit like taking coals to Newcastle. I love tartan, especially the bright, cheery red ones, like Royal Stewart. (Although, I know it can be used inappropriately: I've seen tartan carpeting. Ugh!) I love this quilt because of its connections not only with my grandfather and Scotland, but also my father. I've always wished I would trip across another unwanted book of tartan samples so I could make a second quilt. Though, nothing could ever be as special as this one: my heritage, personally crafted by me.

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