Quilts in America: Beauty and Warmth by Necessity

Quilt History Quilt Stories

When European settlers began to colonize North America it was the middle of the Little Ice Age and both their former homes in Europe and their new ones in the Americas were subject to much harsher winters than we experience in the present day.  Forty-five members of the Mayflower died in the first winter at Plymouth.  Forty-five of one hundred and two.  Staying warm meant staying alive. 

Keeping her family clothed and warm meant constant work and much of a woman's life would be spent spinning, weaving and sewing cloth just for that task.  Quilting the fabric together would have been too time intensive, when just survival was a struggle.  Instead woven or imported blankets would be used.  Still, when resources were scarce women had to get creative.  A worn blanket and tattered clothes might not be fit for use by themselves but women would take fabric from one to provide patches for the other.  Two thin blankets might be sown together making one warm enough for winter.  These types of quilts weren't good on the eyes and certainly weren't considered heirlooms but they got their job done. 

Quilting, or sewing fabric atop of fabric, has been around for thousands of years and has been used for everything from bedding to armor.  We often think of quilts as being many pieces of different fabrics stitched together, what might be called patchwork quilting, but there are many other examples of quilts. 

Whole Cloth Yellow Silk Quilt from 1600's | Winterthur Museum, http://www.winterthur.org/Whole cloth quilts were popular among wealthy colonials in the 17 and 1800's.  The top of these quilts consist of a single piece of cloth, or lengths joined together.  Being one solid color may seem monotonous but the elaborate embroidery and sharp relief (created by inserting extra padding from the back) make for stunningly beautiful pieces.  The same single piece tops were used for applique quilts as well.  In these quilts fabrics of contrasting colors were cut into shapes and then applied or stitched into the top layer.  Like whole cloth quilts the prohibitive cost of these fabrics meant that only the wealthy could afford them.  It also meant that they were more for presentation than a practical use. As the industrial revolution spread fabric became more and more affordable, and as more people had them they became even more cherished.  We can see this in how many traditions quilting became a part of.  Many mothers in the 1800's prepared quilts to give to their children as they left home.  Rural communities would often get together for quilting bee's, allowing them to finish multiple quilts in a single day rather than after months of work.  Also many women used quilts to tell the story of their lives in fabric.  Taking cherished items like a fragment of a childhood blanket, or fabric from their wedding dress they would make their own personal quilt that would tell the story of who they were and where they've been. 

Example of a suffragette quilt |American Folk Art Museum, folkartmuseum.orgQuilting became both personal and communal.  Some made quilts to show their political views.  The suffragettes regularly sold quilts to fund their efforts.  Some showed their support for the abolition of slavery.  Ot
hers for their favored politicians.  Women also gathered to make quilts for the nation's soldiers, most famously for world war I and II, just as today many quilts are made to be given to refugees fleeing war-torn nations.  A recent Quilting in America™ survey shows that there are 16 million quilters in the USA today.  Whether they quilt because they want something to share with their loved ones, connect to the past or, like their spiritual predecessors, the quilt to express themselves and make something beautiful, the passion runs deep. 

At stitched we feel a part of that tradition.  Using our virtual blocks we bring ease and accessibility to the wonderful world of quilt design, making it easier for you to customize your perfect made to order quilt.  Whether it’s a gift for a baby shower or for Christmas, or if the quilt's only job is to be absolutely beautiful, we make it easier to connect with your loved ones and personalize your design. 

Quilts tie us together.

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