Quilting Activism: How Canadian Quilters Can Get Involved

Sara Trail and Laura Hopper
Summer 2021

Founded in 2017 by sewing and quilting author and pattern designer Sara Trail, the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA) is a US-based not-for-profit youth education program that bridges artistic expression with activism to advocate for social justice. Focused on quilting, SJSA aims to create an intergenerational quilting bee by connecting quilters and textile artists of all ages and backgrounds through the power of activist art.

SJSA Community Quilts are created using a multi-step process that involves volunteer support at all levels. Historically, the process of making quilts might draw together a community, with many dedicated hands working to make one finished product. Such is the origin of the Social Justice Sewing Academy’s process.

Throughout the creation of our quilts, we are focused on community. The creation of a SJSA Community Quilt is the living definition of the quilt itself, layers of community that come together to create. In the first step, youth participants who we call artivists (artist/activists) design and create quilt blocks that express their passions, pride, concerns, anger or sadness regarding social justice issues they care about. These blocks are made by youth using fabric glue and raw edge appliqué. SJSA team members and volunteers facilitate these workshops and help lead meaningful conversations about issues important to youth.

Next, the block is sent to an embroidery volunteer who stitches the appliqué down and adds any words the young designer wanted on their block, while adding their own personal style to the block. Blocks are returned and pieced into a Community Quilt, which is longarm quilted by volunteers.

The last step in our process is to share the message. The finished quilts make their way to museums, schools and community spaces where they stimulate community dialogue and bring awareness to the wide variety of social justice issues. Quilts are showcased to advocate and further amplify the messages and bring awareness to social justice issues that are important to youth.

Community Quilt blocks are usually created at workshops that last a few hours. Longer intensive workshops that include meetings over several weeks where youth are able to create their own small quilts are also occasionally available.

While most of SJSA’s work focuses on youth education in textile arts, we have founded new initiatives that broaden our scope to older generations of quilters and artivists.

Tipi Talks is the nickname that teens give Lakota Youth Speak, a restorative justice project
on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. Their quilt includes a tipi with
the words Tipi Talks inside, symbolizing an important space for pre-reservation Lakota.

The SJSA Remembrance Project is a community art project focused on creating a visual statement to memorialize those who have been unjustly murdered
by community violence, race-based violence, law enforcement and gender or sexuality-based violence. Centred on place, quilters who sign up to make a Remembrance Project block are sent the name of someone who was unjustly murdered in their home area. Through designing the block, quilters spend time researching that person – both their life and death – and learn more about the ways that violence impacts their community. Participating in this project involves sitting with your feelings and holding this person close as well as educating yourself to the injustices that systemically and individually impacted this person’s life. Further, it is highlighting the fact that their life mattered.

Exit Wound by Audrey Bernier is a reminder that gun control is an issue that
deserves action and conversation. Exit wounds from an AR-15 are the size of an orange.

As a related project, we started Quilts of Remembrance, a textile memorial for families who have lost a loved one to violence. These quilts, made as a gift for the family of people lost to violence, are intended to reflect the life of the person by creating a quilt using textiles or photos given to us by their family. Quilts of Remembrance allow the family of the honoree to receive a quilt that celebrates their loved one’s life and brings communities together in support of a shared mission of social justice. Quilters who participate in this project are honouring the loss of human life and ensuring that families that receive a quilt know that they are supported and that their loved one will never be forgotten.

While SJSA is based in the States, quilters from around the world are invited to become volunteers. Canadian quilters can sign up to embroider a youth-made quilt block or longarm finished quilt, create Remembrance Project blocks, or make a Quilt of Remembrance. Quilters from Canada are encouraged to get involved, and would be especially welcomed to the Remembrance project to help raise awareness of Canadians who were the victims of community violence. To become a volunteer, visit sjsacademy.com.


Quilt Canada July 19-22, 2023

Quilt Canada July 19-22, 2023

Quilt Canada July 19-22, 2023 in Edmonton, Alberta