Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 3, Page 4
Spring 1992
Stamped with Meaning; Quilt-artist pieces together a social commentary

     Teresa Barkley, Delaware '78, can remember being 5 years old and
looking for something to do. Her older sister, who was in first grade
at the time, taught her how to thread a needle. It was one of those
moments when a life is changed.
     Barkley, now a pattern maker for Perry Ellis in New York City, is
gaining a national reputation as one of the country's leading
quilt-artists. Her theme-quilts sell for anywhere from $2,000 to
     After carefully collecting fabrics, many of them antiques, that
suggest a specific theme, Barkley sets to work piecing by machine,
quilting and appliqueing by hand. The borders of almost all her quilts
resemble the perforated edges of postage stamps, and her hand-painted
lettering continues the postage stamp motif.
     Some of her quilts comment on the environment, historic events
like the war in Iraq or social trends like the dawn of television.
Others portray light-hearted topics like the circus or Disneyland.
     Quite often, however, Barkley's quilts are inspired by
interesting pieces of antique cloth that she finds in flea markets and
antique shops. She is particularly attracted to souvenir textiles with
images and writing on them, and she frequently incorporates items like
old tea towels, tablecloths and cocktail napkins into a quilt.
     Her wildlife conservation quilt, for example, focuses on a piece
of 1906 fabric imprinted with a child's game entitled "Who Can Kill
Teddy Bear?" Inspired by the huntings of Teddy Roosevelt, the bear
game encouraged blindfolded youngsters to aim their finger in gun-like
fashion to "shoot" the imprinted bear. To further the quilt's
conservation message, Barkley sewed on antique canvas sacks that were
used to hold lead shot and included a heat transfer of the 1970
wildlife conservation stamp. The overall quilt is designed to resemble
a children's game board.
     Another conservation quilt, titled Pacific Tears, comments on the
Exxon Valdez oil spill. It is a huge quilt that uses a vintage
souvenir tablecloth commemorating Alaska as its focal point. A variety
of antique salt sacks are sewn into the quilt to represent the ocean,
and black leather tear drops are sewn throughout. Appliqued to one
drop is a heat transfer of the 1959 petroleum stamp.
     Why the postage stamp motif?
     "I feel that a country's stamps say a lot about the things you
honor," Barkley says. "Something that takes as long to make as a quilt
does the same thing.
     "And there are similarities in the images. When you open up a
stamp album and squint at a page of stamps, it's sort of quilt-like. A
single image by itself may not be that interesting but a sheet of
stamps together has a visual impact. I like to do the same thing with
little scraps of cloth."
     If she is making a quilt inspired by an actual stamp, Barkley
paints the price of that stamp on the quilt. If it is a fantasy-quilt,
she stencils in the current price of postage.
     Barkley, 35, started quilting 20 years ago. With 27 finished
pieces and dozens more in the works, she can still remember basting
her first quilt on her bed, only to discover it was stitched to her
bedspread in several places.
     "It was 396 squares of denim with different appliques," she says.
"Many were Army patches my Dad had."
     She was originally inspired to try quilting by two quilts made in
the l930s by her grandmother.
     "I loved those quilts, but since they are family heirlooms, I
assumed they would be passed down to my older sister. I remember
thinking, 'Well, if I want a quilt, I'll have to make my own.'
     "After completing a quilt that was just squares or just hexagons,
I realized how much work was involved. I thought there really wasn't
much point in doing traditional designs that someone could do better,
when I could use the same amount of time to do something unique," she
     One of her unique projects while she was still in high school was
to collect clothing labels from friends. Eventually they were
incorporated into a quilt--all 3,000 of them.
     Her "fashion activist quilt" bears the slogan "Take Stock in
Quilts." Begun shortly after the stock market crash of 1987, it is
done in traditional Amish colors sewn around a contemporary Esprit
handkerchief. All of this is, in turn, surrounded by squares of fabric
designed for boxer shorts with stock market readings imprinted on
them. The quilt is Barkley's way of calling attention to the "stock"
or "worth" of contemporary quilting at a time when Amish quilts were
commanding much higher prices than modern work. It also pays homage to
the owners of Esprit who have the country's finest collection of Amish
     Her personal favorite is a quilt commissioned by the University's
Department of Textiles, Design and Consumer Economics to celebrate the
75th birthday of the College of Human Resources.
     Using her own education as an example, Barkley has interpreted
the Josef Albers painting, Glow, which was used on the l980 education
stamp with the words "Learning Never Ends."
     Using four concentric rectangles from Glow, she illustrated four
stages in her own education--family (represented by a photograph of
the grandmother whose quilts inspired her); nature (represented by a
brilliant peacock); formal education (represented by fabric imprinted
with tumbling books); and job experience (represented by the applique
of actual pattern pieces she used when working for a clothing
manufacturer). The "stamp" on the quilt is marked 75 cents to
represent the 75th anniversary.
     Another quilt with ties to the University is her striking "Sweat
of the Sun, Tears of the Moon," worked in black with appliques of
metallic cloth. The title is based on a South American Indian
expression for gold and silver, a saying she first heard while taking
an anthropology class at the University. The quilt was included in an
exhibition accompanying the 1992 Delaware Women's Conference held this
spring in Clayton Hall.
     This particular quilt, made of two triangles stitched into a
square, borrows themes from commemorative stamps issued in 1948 and
1959 to honor the centennial of the discovery of gold and silver in
the U.S.
     Barkley envisions quilting as part of her life long after her
children, Ian, age 6, and Kyle, four months, are grown.
     "In a few years, my kids aren't going to want to have anything to
do with me," she says. "Quilting is something I'll always have. It
pleases me so much to be able to create something that is uniquely
mine. There's no doubt we'd save a bundle if I didn't do it, but it's
become a part of me."
                                        -Beth Thomas