Brief History of Quilts – From Functional to Fashionable

Featured Resident – Mary Temple
August 1, 2017
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Brief History of Quilts – From Functional to Fashionable

Example of Signature Quilt

I love quilts for their many uses and the artistry, detail and even love that they hold.

A quilt is like a sandwich in that it has 3 layers. Sometimes colorful with a patchwork top fabric, a padded middle fabric and a more muted and sometimes plain bottom fabric – usually matching in some detail to the top, more colorful, fabric.

During the Colonial years women made quilts for wall hangings, door and window coverings (keeping out the cold from windows that were not sealed well), for lap blankets used during traveling and also for bed coverings, sometimes several quilts thick to keep warmth in while sleeping.  There was no time for artistry or beautiful design.  Quilting was a necessity for harsh winter survival. Fabric was limited and rather than discard the old fabric from used feed sacks and worn out clothing every piece of fabric was repurposed for something useful.

In the years between 1750 and 1850 quilts were pieced and patched and many of them are preserved still today.  Some were so elaborate that they took years to make.

In the early 1800’s whole cloth (or counterpane) quilts were popular.  They are usually made of single pieces of material on the top and back and the decoration is obtained by means of padded or corded quality in more or less elaborate design.

As the Amish began settling in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, women began creating quilts with beauty and craftsmanship that have made the Amish quilt a hallmark of quilting.

As with the Amish tradition of helping neighbors with large projects such as barn building, tending cattle, and canning, women would gather to make quilts as a community.

Still today, members of mostly rural communities join together to help make quilts for families in need or for church or community fundraisers.

In 1917 during WWI, quilt making became more important than ever. The U.S. Government urged citizens to “Make Quilts – Save the Blankets for our Boys over There”. The government took all the wool produced for commercial use in 1918 and instituted “heatless Mondays”.   Following the war, interest in quilting as an art form was renewed.

The “Signature” quilt became an important part of raising funds for the Red Cross during WWII. Business owners and citizens would pay a small fee to have their names embroidered on quilt blocks that would then be sewn together and the quilts raffled off with all proceeds going to the Red Cross.

Quilting was viewed as old-fashioned and associated with the Depression and leaner times during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Older Americans continued quilt making and kept the traditions alive.  Making quilts to pass down to their children and grandchildren.

Those children and grandchildren of the “back to nature movement” of the  1970’s and 1980’s then kept the interest in quilt making alive.

And now in this new century, quilt making is still as alive as it was in the early days of America. Some people today quilt for relaxation, charity, as heirlooms for their children or just to find that artistic side.

The quilts of yesteryear portray the history of this land and the pioneer women who used their ingenuity and artistry to piece together fabrics that have helped keep this country of ours steeped in traditions of love and warmth.