• December 22, 2014

Quilting Circle Explore quilting history

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Posted: Friday, June 28, 2013 4:30 am

What picture pops into your mind when you hear the word “quilt?” Is it a picture of the old quilt you used to have picnics on as a child? Is it a picture of a quilt on a bed made by a loved one? Or is it a wall hanging you saw somewhere?

A quilt means different things to different people. There used to be strict guidelines when it came to quilts. For instance, it had to be made out of fabric — preferably cotton. It had to have batting and had to be three layers. The only acceptable method for quilting was hand-stitched or tied.

Now quilts are made with many different materials, not necessarily fabric, and they can be fastened together without stitching at all. Some quilters don’t consider these works quilts. So you can see, the world of quilting is expanding into the art field.

The last trend in quilting that I’m aware of is called the modern quilt. My quilting friends and I have spent several hours trying to figure out what exactly a modern quilt is. When we figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Let’s start at the beginning. Where did quilting start? An Internet search tells me that European and Asian crusaders and warriors had quilted garments under their armor. That heavy metal draped over a body must have hurt.

The earliest known surviving quilt is the “Tristan Quilt” made in about 1360 in Sicily. Russia had the oldest example in existence — a quilted linen carpet found in a Mongolian cave, and is now in St. Petersburg. Probably made to protect the cave’s inhabitants from the cold cave floor. Not what we usually think of as a “quilt.”

In America, quilts were common in the late 18th century. Only very rich ladies had the time and materials to make quilts, which were hand-pieced and embroidered using velvets and satins. These labor-intensive quilts are still around today, and I know ladies who love to make Victorian quilts out of men’s silk ties.

And, of course, we are all familiar with how the pioneer women saved every little scrap of cloth and clothing to piece together quilts to keep their families warm. Making quilts for these ladies was a necessity, not a luxury. Batting in their quilts could be anything from an old blanket to hand-carded cotton, and sometimes even old newspapers.

Stories of quilting bees gathering to quilt all day abound. Having lived in Hawaii in the early 1980s, where I caught what is called “Quilt Pox,” I quickly learned that missionaries introduced quilting to the natives. Teaching quilting was a way for the missionaries to interact with women and convert them to Christianity. The native women quickly changed the standard piecing method of quilting taught by the missionaries into their own version, using the beautiful plants and animals around them to fashion their own designs, what we know as Hawaiian quilts.

With the arrival of the sewing machine, things really got interesting.

Quilters come from all walks of life. They’re young and old, rich and poor, of all religions and cultures. Some are genuine artists, and create works of art, while others are self-taught and make beautiful quilts for each baby born into their family. Quilters are generous with their advice, encouragement, and most of all, their time. If you know a quilter, you are very lucky.

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