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Dissertation Origins

I am currently pursuing a Doctorate in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester under Drs. Sandra Dudley and Ross Parry. During 2022 I completed my literature review, including topics such as the history of fabric, quilt fabric, the Pattern & Design movement, social meanings of object and craft, American feminism, digital communities, fan studies, women's leisure and entrepreneurialism, and Generation X women. Pending eminent probation review and ethics approval, I will be spending 2023 interviewing experts on my topic.

Abstract

The quilt world, a sub-community within the spaces of art and also craft, can be used as a textile litmus test of sorts to measure the strength of and opportunities for women throughout history. Previous Master’s research (Barrus, 2021) and personal experience reveal that significant and unstudied changes occurred within the quilt world around the year 2000, post-second American quilt revival era which began in the United States around 1970. This early twenty-first century phenomenon contains emerging differences which affect and reflect the lives of millions of women quiltmakers and a growing but smaller number of men, including unique generational markers and technological advancements particular to their era.

This PhD project is a feminist ethnography that seeks to explore the anthro-socio-economic symbolism and meaning of both contemporary quilt fabric and women-led entrepreneurialism through an interview-based, two-part study, covering: one, the evolution of quilt fabric design and manufacturing since 2000; and two, correlative entrepreneurialism within the quilt world by American women from Generation X. The research places special emphasis on the cultural and technological influences surrounding these women prior to the year 2000, such as women’s representation in American 1980s and 1990s pop culture and feminisms, prevalent commercialism and consumerism previously established in the quilt world, and the late twentieth century advent and proliferation of digital technology.

Using versions of the diffusion of innovation theory, I will investigate the ways in which present-day fabric innovations differ from previous decades; the methods of diffusion this online community of businesswomen, makers, and fans use to disperse these changes around the world, with special focus on online “performance” and fandom; and finally, how these changes affected and were influenced by a significant participation group within this timeframe: American Generation X women during the third wave and beyond of American feminism.

 

Key words: quiltmaking, feminism, textiles, women entrepreneur, Generation X

The entry line on the first morning of QuiltCon 2020 in Austin, TX, photo taken by Kristin Barrus

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