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Patchwork Thinking


Patchwork Thinking

Isabelle McNeill, Georgina Evans, Louise Haywood & others

‘Their quilts did not mimic the traditional patchwork of white American women, which were stitched in orderly arrangements. Slave quilts were improvised like music: syncopated, free-spirited, with asymmetrical staggerings of texture and shade to create an abstract whole.’

(Hunter 2019, 200).

USE Image: Lucy T. Pettway (b.1921), ‘Snowball’ (drunkard’s path quilt variation) c.1950

When we speak of patchwork, we speak of bits and pieces, things from different times and places stitched together into a pattern. It is a process of recuperation and arrangement, a process of transformation, a way of working with materials and with the hands. It is often collaborative. It materialises politics. As Clare Hunter’s quotation above shows, it can be a way of piecing together community and resisting racist and/or patriarchal effacement. Patchwork signifies and encodes – it is textual. It is textural: quilts or clothing that form protective or comforting wrappings or habits. It is habitual and inhabited. It is gestural and embodied. It takes time, and evolves over time, passed down and transmitted, re-worked: a palimpsest. Patchwork is thrifty and resourceful. It makes creative re-use of materials, makes new out of old, preserves memories and histories but in new formulations, balancing resistance and acceptance, renewal and loss. It brings people together, creatively, with minimal resources. Of course, it has (like everything else) also become a commodity, even an industry – but it holds out the possibility of unpicking capitalist relationships with objects and rethinking our understanding of materials and waste.

Patchwork has close relatives in cinematic or video montage and in all forms of collage. This seminar explores this family of juxtaposition and superimposition of forms, text and images as ways of thinking through making. We will consider and play with the multiple possibilities of patchwork thinking, including the possibility that such thinking is of critical importance in approaching the emergency of our rapidly changing climate.


Ahmed, Sara. 2006. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Andersen, Hans Christian. 2014 [1845]. ‘The Red Shoes’ in Hans Christian Andersen’s Complete Fairy Tales. San Diego, Canterbury Classics, pp. 207-211.

Bennett, Jane. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Cvetkovich, Ann. 2012. Depression: A Public Feeling. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

DeLuca, Kevin Michael, et al. “Q.U.I.L.T.: A Patchwork of Reflections.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs, vol. 10, no. 4, 2007, pp. 627–653. JSTOR,

Hunter, Clare. 2019. Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle. London: Sceptre.

McNeill, Isabelle, with Louise Haywood and Georgina Evans. 2020. ‘Tactics and Praxis: A Manifesto’, MAI: A Journal of Feminism and Visual Culture. 

Russell, Catherine. 2018. Archiveology: Walter Benjamin and Archival Film Practices. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sohan, Vanessa Kraemer. “‘But a Quilt Is More’: Recontextualizing the Discourse(s) of the Gee's Bend Quilts.” College English, vol. 77, no. 4, 2015, pp. 294–316. JSTOR,

Wilcox, Claire. 2020. Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes. London: Bloomsbury.


Daughters of the Dust – Julie Dash, 1991

Dissolving The Secret of Roan Inish – Catherine Grant 2020 []

Goodbye to Language – Jean-Luc Godard, 2014

How To Make an American Quilt – Joycelyn Moorhouse, 1995

Model of Continuation – Lina Selander, 2013 []

The Gleaners and I – Agnès Varda, 2000

The Ancestors Came – Cécile Emeke, 2017


Natalia Goncharova, theatre costume for the Ballets Russes’ ballet The Golden Cockerel, 1937


Textiles and Collage

Natalia Goncharova

Gee’s Bend quilts (e.g. Lucy T. Pettway, see above)

Romare Bearden

Faith Ringgold

Louise Bourgeois

Dorothea Tanning

Tracey Emin

Romare Bearden, ‘The Piano Lesson’, 1984  

Tracey Emin, ‘I Do Not Expect’, 2002.

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