The History of Making Quality Handmade Quilts Beginning With Early Europe to Present Day America

Quilts have always intrigued me because of how each one is so different and unique and has special meanings to the person who quilts. So I did some research to follow the beginning of quilts up to the present time.

In Europe, they became common with the Crusaders. Supposedly, they wore them under their armor. Italy followed a century later making quilts and the most noted one is called the “Tristan Quilt” which is kept in a museum and a separate piece of it is held by a private party.

Now we journey to the USA at the turn of the 18th century. It was common for women to spin, weave and sew their clothing for the family. They made quilts of fine needlework. At the time, they were cloth quilts. Cloth quilts were made of “whole cloth”. There were three layers of top batting and 1 layer of backing. Together they made a design of flowers and birds. Some were made by a stitching around the bird while inserting the batting inside to define the shape of the bird. This procedure was called “Trapunto.” The “Broderie Perse” quilts are unique in that the appliqués are from cut motifs of fabric that is printed with solid backgrounds. This was quite popular in the 18th century. The fabric of this time period was called Chintz. These printed quilts were expensive even to those people who were wealthy.The bedspread was made of homespun cloth by cutting figures of birds and flowers into the quilt. The technique was beautifully done and used only on special occasions. Some quilts had medallions set in the middle with a motif of an eagle or a tree usually in a toile fabric. The borders surrounding the motif mostly were solid colors. Some quilts were made in “Block” style and were sewn together with a border to give it a finished look.

By the mid 1800′s, textiles became affordable to most families and quilts became very popular. Some quilts were made with salvaged cloth from making dresses. If you visit a Museum, you will see quilts made of a specific cloth.

In 1850′s, the Singer Sewing Machine Company made a way for families to afford sewing machines with installment plans. By the 1870′s, most households had sewing machines to make clothing and/or quilts. Some of the quilting was done by hand along with sewing machines. During the Civil War, quilts were made to raise money in support of the Abolitionists and to keep soldiers warm. They would sell the quilts at County Fairs to raise money. They were usually the finest handmade quilts with appliqués of beautiful designs and sometimes anti-slavery slogans were put on the quilts to make people aware of the cruelty of slavery. They were also made by women on both sides of the war to give soldiers warmth.

In the Northern states, women made small quilts cut from bedspreads to fit Army cots. In the Southern states where cotton was grown, it was difficult to quilt because the North had the factories to turn cotton into fabric. As the needs grew, women had to return to weaving in order to make bed coverings once again.

The mid-19th century things started to change. The Medallion and Broderie Perse designs were common. Textiles started to be manufactured on a wide scale. Women did not need to spend so many hours, days and months weaving and spinning their handmade quilts.

Later on, we have the Amish quilts with their bold designs and a variety of colors with stitching that was excellent. Quilts were brought here when the Amish came from European countries nearly 250 years ago. In the beginning, Amish handmade quilts where whole-cloth in solid colors. Then in the 1870′s, patterns and fabrics were designed according to their communities. In Lancaster, Pa. around the 1940′s, they were made of wool. In Ohio, they were made of cotton. Amish women were permitted to use their own creative ideas. It became a social time for the women to come together. They also began making quilts to add to their income and their quilts can be seen all around the world.

Nowadays, the quilts are generally used for throws. Quilts are sometimes used for wedding gifts and in fact, they are such wonderful keepsakes that they pass them from one generation to another. Baby quilts are also quite popular. If you do not quilt, you can always find places to purchase these wonderful quality heirlooms. Time has not diminished the love of quilts.

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