Wednesday, May 15, 2013


By Marin Hanson
Curator of Exhibitions

Today, we went to a village called Wang Jian, where we met a woman who makes bai jia bei -- "one hundred families quilts," which are based on the old tradition of making a patchwork quilt from pieces of fabric donated by many different families. No longer made from donated fabric, they still evoke the idea of the original. Unfortunately, according to Jack Zhang, our museum colleague, the old versions don't seem to exist anymore, even in the small villages.

The quilts our hostess in Wang Jian makes are based on a block we would call a Pineapple Log Cabin in the U.S. What they call it here is "ba gua," which refers to a set of eight symbols essential to Daoist philosophy. The symbols are often arranged in an octagon shape, much like the eight sides of the blocks the maker has sewn together in this quilt:

We were lucky enough to have our hostess give us a demonstration of how she makes the appliqued and embroidered medallions she often places in the center of her quilts:

It was particularly interesting to learn that she uses recycled cardboard as the base of the medallions, wrapping it with fabric and then apppliqueing and embroidering through both layers. The cardboard seems to usually be old cigarette cartons!

We will be coming back to the U.S. with two new beautiful pieces for the IQSCM collections. Although they are made mainly for the tourist market, we feel they are good representations of how this tradition has evolved and how it is able to live on.

Marin Hanson is the Curator of Exhibitions at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She holds undergraduate degrees from Grinnell College and Northern Illinois University and earned her MA in museum studies and textile history with a quilt studies emphasis from UNL. She is currently pursuing doctoral research on cross-cultural quiltmaking practices, with particular emphasis on China and the United States.


  1. Yippee! I just sent you and email Marin. I am so excited that you found proof of this tradition.

  2. I purchased one of these quilts in an antique shop in Tacoma, WA, about a year ago. It was so unusual and at $35, I could not walk out of the shop without it. It does need some small restoration work, but that shouldn't be a problem for me. I am so happy to finally have some information about the origins of my quilt, I will treasure it even more. Thank you so much for posting your picture on Google Images which led to all of your information!

  3. I just bought one of these quilts at a thrift store in Brattleboro VT while attending NECCA ( New England Center for Circus Arts). I paid $24.00 and as stated above, I could not leave without this quilt. I spent the night researching and trying to find out information about all the details.
    It's really beautiful!
    Thank you!