The Welcome Blanket Project at MODA

At MODA — the only design museum in the southeastern United States — we believe that design inspires change, transforms lives, and makes the world a better place.

Our Summer 2018 exhibition, Making Change: The Art and Craft of Activism, explored Craftivism, a movement at the intersection of traditional crafts and social justice activism. The exhibition was curated by Betsy Greer and designed by Susan Sanders.

At MODA, we seek to create immersive exhibitions that prioritize active inquiry over passive observation. During Making Change, we turned our side gallery into a low-tech maker lab and invited visitors to get involved in three different craftivist projects, including The Welcome Blanket Project, designed by Jayna Zweiman, one of the designers of the pink pussy hat worn at the Women’s March in January 2017.

The Welcome Blanket Project invites individuals across the US to hand make a blanket that will serve as a “warm welcome” for an immigrant or refugee newly arrived in America. As a host of Welcome Blanket, MODA partnered with Zweiman to invite individuals across the country (and beyond) to make blankets and send them to the museum.

The response was inspiring! We received hundreds of Welcome Blankets in the mail — sometimes as many as 50 a day. Blanket makers also included a note that welcomed a new neighbor to our country and told their own immigration story. As the blankets poured in, we unpacked them and admired them, then photographed and cataloged each one, and hung them our side gallery for visitors to enjoy.

We rotated the blankets in the gallery often, and when blankets came off the walls, they were packed up and taken to New American Pathways, Friends of Refugees, Catholic Charities Atlanta, and Refugee Services - Lutheran Services of Georgia, organizations that helped us distribute the blankets to individuals and families just arriving in our country.

Every blanket came with a story that was touching, but one that most caught our attention was that of Kay, a refugee from Burma who now makes her life in Georgia. Since arriving in the US, Kay has become part owner of Tandem Quilting and when she heard about The Welcome Blanket Project, she wanted to participate. She created a beautiful blanket and wrote a note of advice for a someone new to the U.S., including a reminder to “be sure to get to know your neighbors.” The back of Kay’s blanket is made of fabric covered in stars, which she intended as a reminder “that you can always find your way through darkness.”

We displayed Kay’s blanket in the Making Change exhibition, then, with the help of Friends of Refugees, it was given to Muna, a Syrian woman who has just arrived in the U.S. with her family. Muna is expecting her second child at the end of this year and is enrolled in Friends of Refugees’ Embrace Refugee Birth Program. Upon receiving the blanket, she wrapped her son in it.

At MODA, we chose to host the Welcome Blanket because of its power to connect people already living in the United States with our country’s new immigrants through stories and handmade blankets, providing both symbolic and literal comfort and warmth. At the same time, the project offers a positive, hands-on way to confront negative rhetoric about immigration and to privilege the idea of inclusion over exclusion.

To learn more about The Welcome Blanket Project — which originated at the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago and will move to other locations — visit WelcomeBlanket.org.

 A Welcome blanket contributor.

A Welcome blanket contributor.