Stitching Hope for the Louisiana Coast: Science Storytelling with Quilts

Laura A Guertin, Penn State Brandywine, Earth Science, Media, PA, United States
Residents of southern Louisiana are frustrated with stories of doom and gloom along the coast. Granted, the coastal zone is being impacted by subsidence, storm surges, sea-level rise, vegetation loss, and diversion of the Mississippi River. But the work of individuals, corporations, non-profits, and government agencies are turning some of these negative impacts into results showing of hope and optimism. Coastal adaptation and resilience are happening, but the stories are difficult to find. In 2018, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) challenged scientists and science communicators to find ways to share stories of the successes in Louisiana’s environment. One unique science communication method that was an outcome from this challenge is the use of quilts to tell stories.

Using art to communicate science is not a new idea, as knitters and crocheters have been creating scarves and blankets from temperature and precipitation data for years. Quilted storytelling is different, as it is not a quantitative representation of scientific data, and it is not one visual snapshot typically shown in a quilt. Patterns and panels of fabric tie in to a narrative that guides the observer through a single story per quilt. A mini-collection of quilts have been created that address topics ranging from the use of Christmas trees to lessen coastal erosion to the construction of elevated greenhouses to preserve native plants of the Pointe-Au-Chien Indian Tribe.

The Stitching Hope for the Louisiana Coast quilt collection has been shared in local presentations, national conferences, and placed on display at a university library. Informal feedback from those that have seen the collection ranges from applause for the creativity to skepticism for the credibility of science being communicated through a quilt.

Quilts will be shown at this AGU Ocean Sciences presentation (attached is story of the invasive apple snail). Quilts are available to view online at: