Quilting today is a popular hobby for many women (and some men, of course!) but do you know the history behind the craft? Quilting in America has a long and rich heritage, ranging from the founding of our nation to the present day. When we think of historical quilting we probably picture something along the lines of Little House on the Prairie, but the true history of quilting in America might surprise you!
It’s popular to think about colonial women quilting in their caps and long gowns, but actually the average early American woman would not have had enough time to quilt and they were not widely made until much later. It was a hobby for the wealthy who were able to afford to hire servants for household help, leaving the women of the house time for needlework, and even then it was not a very common activity. The quilts that were popular at this time were mainly broderie perse, which is when motifs were cut out of printed fabric and used as appliques. Printed fabric in itself was a great luxury of the time, so you can imagine that one must be very well off to be able to cut it up for quilting purposes!
An example of a broderie perse quilt from www.uisgebeatha.org.
It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that quilting became accessible to more American families. The rise of the American textile industry meant that most people could afford to buy fabric, and quilting became a way for women to socialize – they would gather at each others’ houses and help each other finish their quilts. This is how the idea of the “quilting bee” originated, and it became especially important as Americans pushed westward and rural life on the prairie was born. Women would not have as much of an opportunity to socialize with their neighbors if they were far away, so quilting became a way to combat the loneliness of life on the frontier. Quilting was also a comforting hobby for women as they left their familiar lives behind for a new life and new adventures as they traveled west with their families.
We found this amazing information over at Womenfolk.com, a website dedicated to the history of quilting. Next week we’ll be telling you all about how quilting has evolved from the 1800s through the modern day! Until then, you can check out Womenfolk’s website for more quilt history, including how quilts were used during the civil war and how pioneers made quilts without the patterns we have today.
Does quilting run in your family?