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A statement in fabric

A Kaiser Permanente Roseville physician’s racial equity quilt was purchased by the Henry Ford Museum. Pictured, a quilt made by Hillary Goodwin, MD, which will be displayed at the museum in March.

Hillary Goodwin, MD, never imagined that a quilting project she started to show solidarity to a friend would end up in a museum. But that’s exactly what happened to the Roseville Emergency Department physician.

Dr. Goodwin and her friend Bianca Springer were both fans of a company that produced kits for couture garments that could be used to make similar hand-sewn pieces. In 2014, the company came out with a new collection of garments in the color “nude.”  The fabric was a pale beige color that reflected the skin tone of white women only. This designation made Springer feel excluded and invisible to society as a woman of color.

Bianca Springer, left, and Hillary Goodwin, MD

Springer contacted the company to advise that the shade reflected only people of lighter skin tone — thus marginalizing people of color. She received an email from the owner dismissing her concerns as overblown and irrelevant — making it clear that the company had no plans to change the name.

Dr. Goodwin wanted to stand in solidarity with her friend, and with other people of color.  She approached Springer with an idea: She wanted to make a statement in fabric, using not only her own voice, but enlisting the support of others.  Springer immediately supported the idea, so Dr. Goodwin put out a request to modern quilters on Instagram to send her a shirtdress block in whatever color “nude” they felt best represented their skin tone, or that of people they loved.

Dr. Goodwin, whose other quilts have been widely featured in books and magazines, received blocks from more than 25 women from across the country, as well as Brazil, Australia, the Netherlands, and Spain. She combined these shirtdress blocks with an image of Bianca posing in a dress.

Demanding change

“When Hillary approached me with the concept for the quilt, I was immediately in favor of it,” said Springer. “I knew I wasn’t in this alone. I had an ally who was willing to use her voice and community to metaphorically walk beside me.” 

“The quilt offered Bianca an emotional reprieve and a positive redirection of energy as work on the quilt progressed,” said Dr. Goodwin. “It was a way for this community of women to make a statement and a difference.”

More people became aware of the company’s bias and lent their voice to the issue, demanding change. In time, the company eventually did change the name of the collection of garments.

A close-up of the shirt blocks sent in by women from around the world.

“Bianca and I hope this quilt provides a strong testament to the power of women standing together, a recrimination of white privilege in the fashion industry and in the world as a whole,” said Dr. Goodwin.

The Henry Ford Museum in Detroit heard about the quilt and recently purchased it. It will be displayed at a special exhibit on racial justice in March. The exhibit will include pictures and stories from all of the quilt contributors, many of whom are women of color.

“This was an eye-opening experience to better understand the biases and experiences people of color face regularly,” said Dr. Goodwin. “I am honored beyond measure that one of my quilts will become part of the permanent collection.”

Find Kaiser Permanente resources, services, and education on the topic of racial equity from the Northern California Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity (EID).

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