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A short history of Quilting

Sun Dec 30, 2012, 4:09 PM
Since the history of quilting could easily fill a book and has in fact has filled many books, I'm going to keep this rather shorter. As it is a short overview there will be things left out that the more historically minded might miss but there are so many facets to quilting that I cannot include it all.

First of all some definitions to help you understand the terms I use:
- Patchwork is the sewing together of many pieces of fabrics to create a new larger piece of fabric that can then be used to make a quilt or a garment or anything else the maker chooses to make from it.
- Quilting is the layering of two fabrics with a filler layer in between that is then covered with lines or patterns of sewing stitches to hold the filling in place. In modern times it also often refers to a piece of patchwork that is given a backing and a filling and stitched through. In this article I will use both meanings.

Quilting has been around for at least 5000 years if not longer and used to pad fabrics for many different uses: from bedding to wall coverings to clothing and armour. Little is known about the uses of quilted fabrics before the middle ages as very few examples remain and even less is written about them however what is known is that they did create these layered fabrics.

Dressed for Battle I by TheHolyWenzel

More is known about the uses of quilted fabrics in the middle ages, as that is when it was common to use quilted fabric to create body armour either as the only armour worn or as a layer over or under metal armour to help pad the blows. At this time, quilted bed coverings were made to help keep people warm at night and as the years progressed it also became fashionable to wear quilted clothing - something that survives to this day.

Quilted Waistcoat by ColeV

Quilts from this time were usually made from a single piece of fabric for the top and a single piece at the bottom or with several strips of fabric as there were few scraps left from garment making. These were then quilted together, more often than not in a decorative manner to show off the quilter's sewing skills.

Iris Basket by unicornslave

Fast forward to the 18th century when machine made fabrics were mass produced, making them easy and cheaper to come by and easier than weaving your own. It became more common to first create a patchwork top to a quilt to use up leftovers of old clothes and linen before creating the final quilt, which would then be used on the bed or as wall insulation/room dividers in colonial homes. It is more than likely that the tradition of patchwork and quilting was taken to the USA by the pilgrims from Europe, as it was already practised there before the colonisation of the USA.

Tumbling Blocks Boy Quilt by h0p31355

At first, simple patterns were used to create the quilts as women had little time to sew quilts and, due to the poor light from candles, it was probably not possible for them to sew in the evenings in winter so the quilting was done in the spring, summer and autumn when there was still light after the rest of the day's chores were done. As time progressed, sewing machines became available giving the women more time to create quilts as sewing clothes for the family took less time.  The women explored the possibilities of the shapes they knew to create new and more complicated patterns that were used to create the quilts, giving them the ability to express themselves more in the quilts they made.

In the Victorian era, Crazy Quilting was all the rage and women sewed quilts together from all kinds of fabrics with different weights and patterns. Everything from silks to velvet and upholstery fabric were used in the same quilt. They would then show off their needlework skills by embellishing the seams and fabrics with many different embroidery stitches, lace and ribbons. Buttons and other items were sometimes also sewn to the quilt.

1930's quilt by DobbyQuiltElf

When the depression hit in the USA, women were hard pressed to have fabric for much of anything and seed suppliers started printing pretty patterns onto the seed sacks which the women used to make clothes and quilts from. The patterns on the fabrics were usually light in colour tending to lean towards pastels.  Appliqué became very popular in this time - especially Sunbonnet Sue and other cute stylised people, animals and flowers.

After the depression quilting was less popular as bought items were the rage and home made items were seen as cheap. However, in the 60's and 70's, quilting regained popularity, especially amongst the younger generation.  With the new bright colours and patterns, quilts and patchwork items became bright home decorations that many people wanted to have and spent long hours making.

Trojan STar by unicornslave

The latest quilting boom started in the late 80's / early 90's and has been one of the largest with special fabrics being designed and printed specifically for the quilters. Modern techniques to cut fabric have speeded up the preparation and new methods of sewing have made complicated patterns easier to sew, even for beginners.

A not so short short history of quilting - it's necessarily brief and leaves loads out - there is just so much to tell I had to cut it down.

Sources: Over the past week or so I've read a good 15 books and any number of websites to check and reference my information since there are too many to name I'm not going to do so :)
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Mattsma Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Fantastic, and you are right, it is difficult to put it all in :D You did an AMAZING job of summarizing and it's well worth reading :love:
Magical525 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thanks :D I spent ages editing it - I started with half a book! There is just *so* much to tell!
Mattsma Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Well you did a brilliant job of it and having read some of those books and articles in the past I know how much you must have worked on it to get it to that point without leaving everything out :giggle:
Magical525 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thanks :D
MadOldHag Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks a lot for sharing. I am always interested in art history.
Magical525 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
You are welcome - it was fun to do :)
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December 30, 2012
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