Canadian Comfort Quilts in World War II, Part One

13 September 2023

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In Part One of this two-part interview, Joanna Dermenjian defines a Canadian wartime quilt, talks about the possible origins of Canadian relief quilting efforts, and describes some of the quilts she’s encountered.

Nadine Flagel: How did you get into this research?

Joanna Dermenjian: I was working on my master’s degree in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University in London, Ontario. My intention was to investigate why women continued to stitch for leisure after sewing machines became available for domestic use in about 1860. My supervisor asked me to centre the discussion around one artifact. I discovered a wartime quilt on the Canadian Red Cross website. I had never heard of wartime quilting. Neither had my supervisors or the librarian. So I said, “Alright, that looks interesting.”

The other part was that I thought my maternal grandmother might have quilted during World War II. I recently discovered that she belonged to the “Hands Across the Sea” club, which made quilts during wartime. I wanted to research that activity from the point of view of a Canadian woman, living in Canada, raising a family, all while participating in sewing and knitting for the war effort.

All photos courtesy of Joanna Dermenjian.

Copyright © Nadine Flagel except as indicated.

About Nadine Flagel

Nadine Flagel is a self-taught textile and fibre artist whose mission is making art out of “making do.” She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Dalhousie University and teaches literature and composition. She is interested in the repurposing of both texts and textiles. Both practices rely on cutting up existing text(ile)s, on aesthetic and sensual appeal, on thrift, and on putting old things into new combinations, thereby intensifying and multiplying meanings. Flagel has recently held her first solo exhibition at the Craft Council of BC, has written about textile art, has created textile art for public art commission, and has received grants to make art with youth. She is also a member of CARFAC, and the Craft Council of British Columbia. As a settler, she is grateful to live and work on unceded land of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, səl̓ilwətaɁɬ, and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm peoples.

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