Return of the Names Quilt Project

Return of the Names Project.

Back in 1985 a man called Cleve Jones, was marching with hundreds of other people during a candlelit vigil. The March was in remembrance of the assignation of Harvey Milk. Through the 1970’s, Milk had campaigned for LGBT right in San Francisco. His campaign led him to be the first openly gay man to be elected into public office where he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  Milks career was cut short when he, along with San Francisco’s Mayor George Moscone where both shot dead by Dan White, another Supervisor who had recently resigned from his job.

As part of the vigil, Jones had asked people to write the name of people they had lost to AIDS; the names where then stuck together and hung from a San Francisco Federal Building. Jones noticed how the patchwork paper looked very much like a quilt. From here the idea of the names quilt was born. Word was put out for people to make a quilt, 3’ X 6’ (the same length as a human grave) and to stitch, draw or paint the name of the person who had died of AIDS, along with a message of momentum about that person. From there the idea grew and grew with many other countries seeing the power the quilt had in bringing people together to grieve and to also show the world the devastating tragedy AIDS was having. Both London and Brighton embraced the power of the Names Quilts and had them on display during the Pride marches and World AIDS Day; reminding us all that AIDS had not gone away.

Over the decades new antiretroviral treatments helped reduce the huge number of deaths from AIDS related illnesses and along the way, in the UK at least, the Names quilts where folded up and packed away and assigned to the history books. However, in the USA, the Names Quilt has continued to grow and July this year the Names Quilt has returned to Washington DC to mark the 25th anniversary of The Names Project and thirty years since HIV and AIDS where first identified.

In Brighton a group of volunteers have got together and updated the idea of the Names Quilt. During a meeting about Brighton’s LGBT Pride March, whose theme is ‘The United Colours of Pride, it was suggested making a quilt of different coloured hankies as a nod towards the coloured hankie code. The hankie code was extremely prevalent on the gay scene for a way of men to communicate with each other their sexual preferences with the hankie worn on the left for ‘active’, right for ‘passive’ or round the neck for versatile.

From this initial brainwave the group realised they had an opportunity to revitalise the Names Project and so The Hankie Quilt Project was born.

We wanted something that we could carry during this year’ s Brighton Pride March, rather than have draped over a  float,   so we decided to use 12” 12”hankie panels with the names of those either lost to AIDS or for those living with an HIV+ diagnoses.

Maurice: Hankie Quilt Project volunteer.

Since then, the project has generated a lot of interest, with the local W.I. signing up to help with sewing the panels and Actress Ann Mitchell coming onboard to help promote the project to a wider audience.  Other organisations, including Brighton’s Jubilee Library and London’s Gays the Word book shop, have promised the project a space to display their project. As in the past this simple idea allows people from all walks of life to engage with the project. The group behinds the Hankie Quilt Project hopes their idea will inspire other cities to create their own name hankie quilt project which in turn will bring the topic of HIV and AIDS back onto a wider social radar.

The project has set up a Facebook page, The Hankie Quilt, where more information about the project and how people can get involved can be found.

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