The MSU Museum (MSUM) is currently featuring an exhibit entitled “Patterns of Inquiry: Quilts in Research and Education.” The exhibit talks at length about how quilts— in addition to their traditional use as bed coverings— are used to tell stories, raise awareness, and make social commentary. Because quilts often have these deeper meanings and significance, they can be valuable tools for both researchers and educators. The exhibit invites visitors to look past a quilt’s aesthetics and discover the more nuanced knowledge-making activities that are sewn (literally) throughout the piece.
Patterns of Inquiry, curated by MSUM colleague Mary Worrall, builds heavily on artifacts, technology, and ideas developed through MATRIX’s partnership with the Quilt Index. MATRIX provides digital humanities technology, database platforms, and tools for the Quilt Index which seeks to create an online, digital repository for quilt and quilt-related ephemera around the world. The Quilt Index brings together a community of quilters, quilt enthusiasts, and quilt researchers to digitize, archive, and share knowledge about a wide-range of quilts. This information, and its corresponding metadata, is then stored in KORA— a digital repository system designed and maintained by MATRIX.
The MSU Museum exhibit also explained and built on the Digging Into Data project, which seeks to create search algorithms that can look through the wealth of visual and textual information contained in the Quilt Index and locate specific patterns, stitch types, and colors. This will help researchers quickly identify quilts and quilt ephemera that will be important to their research. This intersection of quilts (a traditionally non-digital medium) with digital preservation and scholarship creates an intriguing juxtaposition of old-world crafts and twenty-first century technologies. Perhaps the greatest example of this apposition is the quilt featured on this article. The quilt was created by Beth Donaldson and is also a fully functional QR code.
Patterns of Inquiry is a phenomenal exhibit that challenges traditional views and uses of quilts and encourages their use as research and educational tools. MATRIX is proud to be a part of this exhibit and will continue to promote both the endeavors of the Quilt Index and the MSU Museum as they explore new challenges and opportunities in the digital humanities.