Quilting – the ultimate in crafting self-expression. Quilting as a hobby and trade has been practiced for over five thousand years. Quilts are functional, providing warmth, protection, decoration, and have historically been used by great world leaders in many different countries.
A carved ivory image of an Egyptian pharaoh about 3400 B.C. shows a quilt nearby. Archaeologists also found a quilt being used as a carpet in Mongolia between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D. Quilts were brought to medieval Europe from the Middle East. Medieval knights wore quilts for comfort under their suits of armor and also on top to protect them from the elements like rain and snow.
Quilting has always been popular as a way to keep people warm and protected from the elements, but it flourished in popularity when it came to North America. Early on, new fabric was hard to come by and time scarce. Fabric was saved as much as possible from worn clothing. Thus the patchwork quilt was born. Many of these patterns have been passed through generations, created by the ingenuity of our ancestors and traded within communities.
Quilts were mentioned in inventory logs starting in the late seventeenth century. American quilts that survived came from the early eighteenth century and are easy to date. People would often start by quilting newspapers before putting fabric together. When the quilts wore out, the date of the newspapers would be revealed. Quilts were also used as political statements in place of flags and banners during the American Civil War, the World Wars, and when women were campaigning to vote.
When slaves were brought from Africa, they kept their artistic traditions alive through quilt making. Every scrap of material left over from chores, dressmaking, and worn-out garments was saved for the making of quilts. African quilts were distinguishable because of their bright, warm colors and asymmetrical designs. Since African quilts were very distinct, they were used to signal which houses were “safe houses” when slaves were escaping to freedom.
For many years quilting has helped people to deal with crisis, tragedy, and grief. During the Civil War, women made quilts in memory of male friends and family members lost to the war. The memorial quilts often included scraps from the lost person’s clothing. Quilts were also made for soldiers on active duty, as well as to raise funds to support the war. In this way, women found a way to participate in the cause, and help out male friends and family who were out on the battlefield. Blue Star Service Banners (sometimes called “Blue Star Flags”) have long been a part of America’s wartime history. Families with men and women serving in the military have been hanging these quilts in their windows since the beginning of World War I.
In the 1920’s, the art of making quilts was embraced by a new generation and the
quilting revival of the 1920’s and 1930’s was underway. Periodicals employed designers to run quilt pattern columns and create new patterns. These quilt designers added a new 20th Century sophistication to the repertoire of patterns available to the quilter. It was also during this period that a cottage industry was born: women began selling quilt patterns and kits from their own home-based businesses. The number of patterns available multiplied with the abundance of periodicals, newspapers, and cottage industries selling quilt patterns.
Even today, people create quilts for purposes of comfort, as well as to express opinions on various causes. In 1987, quilters joined together to create a giant AIDS memorial quilt. During the Gulf War against Iraq in 1991, quilts were created both supporting and opposing the war. Quite recently, quilting became an outlet to express fear and compassion regarding the attacks of September 11, 2001.
So whether you are a Pharaoh or knight, soldier or activist, a quilt can not only provide you with warmth and protection. Quilting can bring people together to celebrate old traditions and create new tributes. Happy quilting!