Canadian Comfort Quilts in World War II, Part Two

20 September 2023

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In Part One of this two-part interview, Joanna Dermenjian defined a Canadian wartime quilt, talked about the possible origins of Canadian relief quilting efforts, and described some of the quilts she’s encountered. Read Part One here. 

Nadine Flagel: I understand quilts were considered a “comfort item.” How many comfort items were sent from Canada to the U.K. during the six years of war? And what did that include?

Joanna Dermenjian: Sarah Glassford states in Mobilizing Mercy that the Canadian Red Cross recorded a total of fifty-three million supplies and comforts.

Supplies and comforts included sheets, bandages, face masks, pillowcases, ropes, slippers, and all kinds of textile hospital supplies. Women sewed clothing for people who were bombed out of their homes and lost everything. I found articles saying English children who were evacuated to the country after the bombing started were dressed in better clothes than they had ever had. Workgroups were told to keep the scraps from clothing and make patchwork quilts. One article states the leftover clippings and threads were collected and sold for paper pulp. It’s that whole reuse, sustainability, don’t waste a scrap method.

Nadine: And the number of quilts?

Joanna: I’ve found Red Cross records documenting 413,000 quilts made and shipped from five Canadian provinces. That doesn’t include all provinces and territories, and it doesn’t include organizations that made and shipped outside of the Red Cross. I estimate over 500,000.

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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