Book: Quilts of Gee's Bend featuring two quilts from Loretta Pettway.


Above: from The Quilts of Gee’s Bend by William Arnett, Alivia Wardlaw, Jane Livingston, and John Beardsley; quilts by Loretta Pettway. Photograph by Abraham Rowe.

The 2023 Project Threadways Symposium will be held April 20-22 in Florence, Alabama. In-person and virtual tickets are available—purchase yours here.


Last spring, a group gathered in Florence for the 2022 Project Threadways Symposium to explore textiles and activism. Among the presenters was Aleia Brown, an interdisciplinary scholar who studies ways that Black women—through collective making—have experimented with different models of freedom. Her talk drew on narratives from quilting cooperatives to show how Black political thought was crucial to the development of Black textile traditions, and how in Alabama and Mississippi, women used collective making in pursuit of autonomy. 

After hearing Dr. Brown’s research and insights, the Project Threadways team knew that we had found our next theme. Our 2023 Symposium will highlight collectives—small groups creating big changes through the everyday act of making. 

Societies globally have long depended on collectives of skilled artisans to produce textiles as clothing, coverings, and art. In North America, Native American women wove baskets and fabrics from wool, flax, and cotton for their families and others. In Alabama, the Gee’s Bend quilters members of the Freedom Quilting Bee sewed and sold quilts for financial independence during the Civil Rights Movement, building a legacy of craftsmanship and resistance in the state. Project Threadways founder Natalie Chanin began Alabama Chanin as a collective in Florence, employing local sewers to make garments by hand. Our symposium itself is a collective of sorts, inviting audiences to think deeply about the act of making and its impact. 

Dr. Brown’s presentation was a start—a thread that needed more pulling, more loving. It is only fitting that we’ve invited her back this year to do just that. Dr. Brown will kick off this year’s program by setting the stakes of the conversations that follow, encouraging us to consider the economic, social, and political implications of collective craft. 

Below, read more about the narratives and communities featured throughout the upcoming symposium. 


This year, symposium speakers explore collectives that have created industry and nurtured creativity. Vallarie Pratt takes us to Dalton, Georgia, at the turn of the 20th century, when Catherine Evans Whitener sold her first hand-tufted spread for $2.50. By the 1920s, the bedspreads had doubled in price, and with mechanized production around mid-century, the industry reported more than $120 million in profits. Eventually, tufting machines were adapted to produce wall-to-wall carpet. In less than half a century, Dalton became both the “Bedspread Capital of the World” and “Carpet Capital of the World.” Pratt explores the cottage industry Whitener helped create, plus the role of Appalachian mythology in the selling of textiles. 

Donna Mintz, a visual artist and fellow with the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences, is also the co-writer and -editor of the 2014 book, The Hambidge Center: 80 Years in the Making. Drawing on her research, she will delve into the origins of Georgia’s Hambidge Center—one of the oldest artist residencies in the country—including founder Mary Hambidge’s Weavers of Rabun, a group of women who raised and sheared sheep, carded and spun wool, and crafted woven goods to sell nationwide.

In a special presentation at the Kennedy-Douglas Center for the Arts, Dr. Katie Knowles, an historian of textiles, clothing, and U.S. slavery, offers a glimpse into the material life of Sarah Tate, who was born enslaved in Texas and emancipated in 1865, when she began earning wages for her labor. Tate saved many of her things: her emancipation dress, signaling her new freedom as a Black woman in the United States; her daughter’s baby dress; her 1840s wedding dress; and her mother’s scissors. For the symposium, Dr. Knowles will consider the collective process through which we tell a story about an individual and how they are remembered by history. As she notes, “curate” means literally “to care for.” This material tells a story about Sarah Tate and her family, and it is our collective job to interpret it.

Hand-written notebook with snipped threads lying on the page.
Above: Hambidge Center archival material at Mary Hambidge’s weave shed, 2018, photograph by Rinne Allen.


Today, sewing groups and textile cooperatives are alive and well, evolving in surprising ways. Annie Bryant and Viola Ratcliffe of Birmingham’s Bib & Tucker Sew-Op will take audiences inside their efforts to promote empowerment, education, and economic opportunity through sewing. Each year, members stitch blocks to create a March Quilt around a civil or human rights theme. Their Recycled Runway program teaches middle and high school students to make clothes from repurposed materials, and regular sewing circles engage communities across the city.

While Bib & Tucker’s work centers around the local community, Diana Weymar is concerned with the global and virtual—the power of disparate communities across time and space to create in harmony. Weymar is the founder of the Tiny Pricks Project, a material record of the Trump Presidency, and Interwoven Stories, a community-based narrative stitching project featuring work by sewers from San Francisco to Syria. The collection considers individual expression alongside the aggregate whole.

In addition to presenting work from the Interwoven Stories project, Weymar will host a sewing circle, inviting symposium attendees to contribute their own page to the collection. Together, we will imagine, design, sew, and explore community and collectivity. 

Various fabric pieces that look like pages with hand-stitched designs on them; a March Quilt from Bib and Tucker Sew-Op in Birmingham, Alabama.
Left: hand-embroidered “pages” from the Interwoven Stories project, facilitated by Diana Weymar. Right: A March Quilt from Bib and Tucker Sew-Op in Birmingham, Alabama.


In between presentations, we will share meals and engage in facilitated and informal conversations. Carrie Barske Crawford, Director of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, and Dr. Jimmy Shaw, an educator and former textile professional, will discuss Project Threadways’ oral history program, and the power of first-person narratives. Attendees will tour an exhibition at Florence’s Pope’s Tavern museum curated specifically for the symposium, which sits at the experimental intersection of art and history and asks questions about curation, and how we tell collective stories of a place and its past.

Find the full 2023 Project Threadways Symposium schedule here, and purchase in-person or virtual tickets here. Student pricing is available. Please contact with questions. 

From Olivia Terenzio, Director of Project Threadways
March 2023

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