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Katherine Kunkel

Mending the Tears:
Quiltmaking as an Intervention in Rape Crisis Centers

Sylvia G., center panel from “Creating Change” quilt. 2003.
Acrylic on canvas. 36”x24”

         Throughout American history, quilts have been associated with comfort, warmth, and home. Created as a hobby or out of necessity, quilts and the process of creating them have been passed down through generations of women who gathered together to sew and tell stories.

            During more tumultuous times in American history, quilts have been associated with political action. From leading slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, to the Temperance and Suffrage Movements, to the present-day NAMES quilt; quiltmaking has been used in order to promote political and social change.

            In numerous rape crisis centers throughout the Chicago metropolitan area quilts are created for comfort and safety, to share stories of experiences, and to advocate for social and political action. The activity of quiltmaking is often introduced to survivor groups outside the context of art therapy, but provides a therapeutic space for healing. This thesis examines the social, political, and historical background of quilts and quiltmaking, as well as the emotional and physical connection humans have to fabric and material.

         This research develops and questions the concept of “material theory,” which seems to exist within the traditional educational discourse of art therapy while little has actually been researched or written on the topic. Material theory is defined here as the study of art media within art therapy, and the social, political, historical, educational, sensorial, emotional, psychological, and developmental implications of its use. Material theory examines these various properties of a medium and how it relates to the population that uses it. This exploration of material theory, along with interviews of facilitators and participants in quiltmaking groups forms the method of this research. The ways in which quiltmaking is frequently used as an effective intervention during the healing process of survivors of sexual trauma are discussed and possible explanations for the reasons why this work is so often remains undocumented are explored.


          Katherine Kunkel graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2002 where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking with a minor in Psychology. While pursuing her MAAT, she is receiving clinical training at the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago working with survivors of sexual trauma.


Thesis Advisor: Randy M. Vick, Chair, Art Therapy

Thesis Reader: Barbara A. Baumgartner, Associate Director, Women and Gender Studies, Washington University

Second Reader: Jami Ake, Assistant Dean and Academic Coordinator, School of Arts and Sciences, Washington University




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