Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Managing Illness through Creative Engagement: Women, HIV, and the Stitches Doll Project

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Managing Illness through Creative Engagement: Women, HIV, and the Stitches Doll Project

Article excerpt


Without stories there is no articulation of experience. Without stories a woman is lost when she comes to make the important decisions in her life. She does not learn to value her struggles, to celebrate her strengths, to comprehend her pain. Without stories she cannot understand herself. Without stories she is alienated from the deeper experiences of self ... she is closed in silence. (Christ, 1995, p. 1)

There is a tradition of women and marginalized/disenfranchised groups using textile art, often in the form of quilts, as a means by which to express themselves, record their stories, commemorate status passages (e.g., birth, marriage, death) and create alternate historical records (Aptheker, 1989; Carocci, 2010; Collier, 2012; Ferrero, Hedges & Silber, 1987; Fry, 2002). Through their textile work "women ... not only [are] witnesses to but active agents in important historical change" (Ferrero et al., 1987, p. 11) transforming their "experiences into ways of knowing" (Aptheker, 1989, p. 43). They create meaning, a cultural record of their experience, with which others can share and learn. The typical group/community nature of such work--the joining together with others for "sewing and protest.. .[uniting] women in ties of work and creative expression" (Ferrero et al, 1987, p. 11) --provides women with the strength and support necessary to persevere adversity and face lifes challenges (Reynolds, 2004).

The Stitches Doll Project is a contemporary example of women creating alternative history through textile art. This community-based initiative provides HIV+ women and girls the opportunity to share their stories through creating a doll that speaks for them. The completed dolls are anonymously contributed to the project and are then made available for public consumption through the Stitches website and travelling doll exhibits. Through analyzing the dolls makers' contributions to the project and Stitches exhibit visitor response cards, this paper explores the meaning making and identity work/repair articulated through textile creation and the cultural transmission of oral histories (Aptheker, 1989). As with their 19th century sisters whose "needles became pens and quilts their eminently expressive texts" (Ferrero et al., 1987, p. 11), the creation of dolls provides these women and girls with the opportunity to reflect on their personal feelings and share their ways of knowing and the reality of their daily lives. It "allows those most involved to provide context and meaning to their situation" (Wright, 2003, p. 29), work towards healing, and in the process educate their audience and challenge popular constructions of persons living with HIV/AIDs (PHAs).

Textile Art

The creation of cloth-based/textile art forms, particularly by women, has a long global history (Gillespie, 2010). Through the textile arts of North American indigenous people, the storyquilts of the agrarian Hmong, the 3D arpilleras or cuadros of South America, African Kente cloth, and the American Antebellum slave quilts we see the historical cross-cultural use of textile art. Created by hand, using familiar materials (e.g., scraps of cloth, yarn, notions, etc.), often in collaboration with others, textile creations are "personal and communal" and serve "aesthetic and functional" purposes (History in Quilts, N.D.). Despite their different names and/or forms, textile creations are typically made by women for a variety of purposes: for warmth, to decorate, to commemorate life events, to express political views, to pass on oral histories, to express oneself (Carocci, 2010; Gillespie, 2010; History in Quilts, N.D.).

One of the most well-known North American examples of recording stories and history through textile art are the antebellum slave quilts. According to Fry (2002, p. 1) "denied the opportunity to read or write, slave women quilted their diaries, creating permanent but unwritten records of events large and small, of pain and loss, of triumph and tragedy in their lives. …

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