Daughters of Dorcas and Sons Collection consists of three quilts made by Viola Canady and two quilts made by Carmel Washington in the 1990s. Canady’s quilts feature African piece stars, a daisy, and a cathedral. Washington’s quilts depict a farm scene and butterflies. Both Canady and Washington were members of the quilting group, Daughters of Dorcas and Sons.
Daughters of Dorcas and Sons (DDS), established by Viola Canady and Etta R. Portlock, became a Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Quilting Association (NQA) in 1980. The quilting group began as a small circle of African American women with twelve members meeting in a house. Around 1985, the number of members expanded, and they found a church –
Calvary Episcopal Church in northeast Washington, D.C. – to meet. As of 2002, over 100 members, including several men, form DDS. The group was named for the biblical seamstress, Dorcas.
The members of DDS exemplify the long tradition of American quilting through working together and teaching others. They share ideas and techniques working individually and jointly. In addition, the members participate in a variety of community projects, including quilt donation programs for St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home, and the Hospital for Sick Children; and teaching quilt making to inner city youth.
Viola Canady, born to a family of sharecroppers in Goldsboro, North Carolina in 1922, learned to quilt primarily from her mother, Lila Grady, and her maternal grandmother, Ava Grady. To keep warm, they sewed scraps of fabric and worn out clothing together to form quilts.
After moving to the Washington, D.C. area in 1945, Canady worked as a seamstress for the Department of the Army for nineteen years. She added decorations to clothing; mended clothing; and made slipcovers, draperies, and bedspreads for generals, colonels, other army personnel, and their wives. Notably, Canady made a flag for General Westmoreland; and sewed clothing for the army band and black covers for their instruments for President Kennedy’s funeral. She was often requested when deadlines were tight.
After retiring, Canady discovered the NQA show in Greenbelt, Maryland. Soon after, she joined the NQA and traveled to other cities around the country to attend the quilting show. In 1980, she co-founded the Daughters of Dorcas and Sons, a quilting group, with neighbor, Etta R. Portlock. The quilting group was chartered with NQA, and educates and supports African American quilters. Additionally, Canady taught classes for NQA throughout the country, and made quilting kits which were sent around the world.
Canady showed and sold her quilts and wall hangings. When she began quilting, Canady made large quilts and quilt tops. Later, she made wall hangings, which were a more reasonable price for the average person. Canady loved lots of color in her quilts. She was also known for the cathedral window or “stained glass” technique. For this technique, Canady arranged pieces of colored fabric between thin strips of black fabric to create the effect of looking at a stained-glass window.
Canady received a fellowship from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, represented Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian Institution’s Festival of American Folklife, and completed a commission to make a wall hanging of the Sumner School Museum. Her How to Quilt piece was a part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum exhibit on African American quilts, and her quilt making ideas were included in an article of Quilter’s Newsletter magazine in November 1993. Canady died in 2009.
Carmel Washington grew up in Haiti. During the first week of school, at age five, Haitian students begin to learn to use a pencil and needle. They are taught serious embroidery because everyone has to pass an embroidery test at the end of high school. Washington learned embroidery quickly. After graduating, Washington taught embroidery among other subjects to elementary students. When the school closed, she secured work as a supervisor at the Department of Commerce in Haiti making sheets, tablecloths, and linen dresses for tourists using embroidery techniques.
After arriving in the United States, Washington settled in the Washington, D.C. area. Her first introduction to quilting was a six week course, which she found discouraging. However, Washington still joined Azalea Quilters in Takoma Park, Maryland. Through the quilting group, she learned that a quilter can piece or do applique. She choose applique because she was using applique with her embroidery work.
Washington hand sewed all her quilts and wall hangings, using very tiny stitches, on her lap. She integrated embroidery into her quilts and greatly enjoyed creating her own designs. Washington did not sell many of her quilts. She made them for friends or to give to her church for the bazaar. Washington was also a member of the quilting group, Daughters of Dorcas and Sons.
Freeman, Roland L. 1996. A communion of the spirits: African-American quilters, preservers, and their stories. Nashville, Tenn: Rutledge Hill Press.
Interview with Carmel Washington. The Daughters of Dorcas QSOS Project. Alliance of American Quilters. 16 Nov 2004.
--- Tape Number: DC20002-008
--- The inteview was conducted by Evelyn Salinger on November 16, 2004 in Washington, DC for the Quilters' Save Our Stories (QSOS) project.
Interview with Viola Williams Canady. The Daughters of Dorcas QSOS Project. Alliance of American Quilters. 6 Jul 2004.
--- Tape Number: DC20002-001b
--- The inteview was conducted by Evelyn Salinger on July 6, 2004 in Washington, DC for the Quilters' Save Our Stories (QSOS) project.
Interview with Viola Williams Canady. The Daughters of Dorcas QSOS Project. Alliance of American Quilters. 12 Jul 2002.
--- Tape Number: DC20002-001a
--- The inteview was conducted by Evelyn Salinger on July 12, 2002 in Alexandria, Virginia for the Quilters' Save Our Stories (QSOS) project.
African American artisans
African American quiltmakers
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum