By its nature, the signature quilt is meant to be read not only as a whole but also square by square. Although the form is known by various names—including friendship, album, and fundraising quilts—what all of these types share in common is the composite nature of the quilting project, in which individual signed blocks have been brought together to form a larger design. Often a group undertaking, each block was typically named for, and frequently made and/or paid for by, a different member of a community.

In this sense, the signature quilt holds symbolic value not only as a record of shared creative endeavor, which is the case for many quilts, but also as a legible record of relationships between the quilters and their communities, as well as between the part and the whole. As documents of past networks, such objects extend a sense of interconnectedness into the present, drawing viewers into a web of historical linkages in tandem with the visual interactions between blocks.

Like the systematically articulated branches of a family tree, the signature quilt simultaneously lays out and pulls in, engaging us in a simile of the group’s structure, and of the object’s dynamism, as we expand and contract our focus to take in both large and small.