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Meet the Maker: Daliah Silver

This Fall, quilting met activism at the Maker Lab thanks to Maker-in-Residence, Daliah.

The Spunk Radicalism of Quilts

When we think of quilts, we think of the patchwork designs, coziness, and our grandmother’s home.

But did you know that in the 19th century, quilts were activists’ primary vehicle for their messages? From suffragettes to gay rights advocates, quilts served as a medium to communicate the rights and needs of marginalized groups.

Maker-in-Residence Daliah Silver is continuing this tradition.

A youth development professional by day, Daliah is a textile artist who creates her own protest banners that uplift social justice movements, climate change, girls’ rights and communal healing.

Craftivism: When Arts Meets Action

Daliah can’t remember exactly when she learned how to sew. She just knows she’s been sewing since she was a child.

Similarly, she can’t remember her life without a library— she just knows it’s always been a resource for her and her family, especially when they moved to the United States and sought community and English language resources.

So, when she got the call to be one of Chicago Public Library’s Makers-in-Residence and to teach Chicagoans how to sew banners, “my parents said it made so much sense,” she says while laughing.

As the Fall Maker-in-Residence, she has taught participants how to make protest banners and explore the intersectionality of activism and quilting.

But where exactly did her passion for both things begin?

“I was obsessed with the suffragette movement, women fighting for the right to vote, and the protest flags and banners that came out of that,” Daliah explains. “As someone who doesn’t feel comfortable attending protests, I thought this was a wonderful way of voicing my beliefs, so I started making protest banners for myself in 2020 focusing on social justice movements and for others to borrow through a banner lending library.”

When Words and Needles Tell the Story

Inspired by climate change activists and other community members, Daliah jots down quotes, messages, words, or phrases that resonate with her in a journal and then sews them onto recycled fabric. One of her more recent quilts features the quote “We Will Mend” in floral lettering with a plain background — a message about the importance of communal healing.

“In the protest banners from the suffragette movement, the words spoke for themselves. The colors were simple, but the words were huge. That’s what I try to replicate with my banners, and I try to uplift the voices of those in my community.”

To inspire Maker Lab attendees taking her courses, Daliah provided participants with handouts that had questions to consider about their own beliefs and communities as they ideated and sketched out plans to help them move the needle forward (literally!).

“At the beginning of my classes (quilt making to lettering 101 to courses on storytelling and finding inspiration in everyday life), I showed them examples of quilts with messages about social justice themes, so they would get some extra inspiration.”

And for students who needed a bit more guidance with what to stitch onto their fabric, Daliah provided the encouragement to continue by asking them questions about their identity and providing additional examples. “This residency has taught me a lot about catering my teaching style to different people. Some people require less instruction while others need more templates and instruction.”

On Creating a Community Quilt

What does the Library mean to Chicago?

That’s a question Daliah is attempting to answer with her final project, a community quilt that will serve as a love letter to CPL on its 150th anniversary.

“I’ve asked everyone who has attended my workshops to submit a sticky note with a word or a phrase that they associate with the Library or that represents what the Library means to them,” she says. “I’m going to stitch all these words onto a community quilt with the colors from CPL’s 150th logo.”

Following the Maker-in-Residence tradition, the quilt is now displayed on the Harold Washington Library windows facing State Street for Chicagoans to see and admire.

“It was amazing learning what the Library means to people. It was even more amazing sharing our collective love of sewing in a space like the Maker Lab,” she says. “A space like this gives people the freedom to learn new things with no judgment and no other requirement besides curiosity.”

Learn more about Daliah on her Instagram, @sowsewfibers.

Happy 10 years to the Maker Lab, the only FREE maker space in Chicago. The Maker Lab is a donor-powered program where Library users can experiment with state-of-the-art technology such as design software, electronic & laser cutters, and 3D printers to make a creative project, business idea, or design prototype come to life. This program is made possible thanks to our sponsors: Comcast, Exelon, Peoples Gas, and generous donors to the Library Foundation.

Make a gift today to help provide Makers with materials and resources to bring their projects to life.