We’re continuing our Quilting in America feature with part 2. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here before continuing on with this post! Today we’ll be talking about how quilting in America has changed from the mid-1800s to today.
Believe it or not, quilting actually played a large role in the Civil War. As the war dragged on, soldiers on both sides of the conflict needed blankets – for warmth, comfort, and sometimes for burial. Northern women quickly got to work making quilts out of whatever fabric scraps were available to send to the troops. Fortunately, the quilts that the military requested were much smaller than a full bed quilt – about four feet by seven feet. Women in the South, on the other hand, had a much harder time of it. Many of them had had slaves to do the household sewing, so they were not proficient sewists themselves – not to mention fabric of any kind was scarce. They turned to making homespun fabric as a source for their blankets. Sadly, many quilts did not survive this time period of American history; the rough nature of the war meant that many were too worn to save.
After the Civil War, the crazy quilt saw its rise in popularity. At first, these were only made by wealthy women and out of the finest materials available at the time – it was a way to show off their wealth and a respectable hobby for a woman to have at the time. However, the trend soon spread to the other social classes as well, and women made quilts out of whatever fabric scraps they had, including old clothing.
An example of a crazy quilt from Laura Fisher Quilts.
As the opulent years of the American Victorian era gave way to the lean times of the Great Depression, the quilts moved from extravagant crazy quilt designs to the simpler designs of decades past. It was around this time that quilting began to be appreciated as an art form and not simply something that was necessary. Different fabric colors and styles became popular and women were eager to try them out to make warm blankets for their family during the Depression years. It was also around this time that quilting magazines became popular, and women would look to these for inspiration on the newest styles, rather than having to rely on quilting bees as in the past.
As the Depression ended and World War II began, quilting fell out of popularity. Women needed to take up work in factories and help the American cause as the able-bodied men were drafted overseas, and there was simply less time for the average woman to pursue a hobby. In addition, the rise of factory-made bedding meant it was no longer necessary for women to make quilts; they could simply buy blankets instead. Sewing became a less popular hobby in general as first radio and then television made way for new hobbies and ways to pass the time.
As patchwork as a style rose to popularity in the 60s and 70s, so again rose the popularity of quilting. Quilting became a popular method of making more than just quilts – the patchwork style was admired in clothes and accessories, as well. In the 1980s, the quilting tools we know today, like rotary cutters and cutting mats, became available, making it easier than ever for someone to begin quilting. The hobby has only increased in popularity ever since!
I hope you loved this feature on quilting in America! For more great information on quilt history, check out the Women Folk website.
Do you come from a family of quilters?