Purls of Wisdom

Quilting: Learn Its Unique American History and How to Start Making Your Own Quilt Today!

Posted by Cameron Lee on Sun, Aug 26, 2018 @ 10:10 AM

Good morning and welcome to the last of the summer activities blog posts! My final topic is somewhat fitting for these final days of summer vacation as we move into the chilly fall season: quilting! I remember helping to make class quilts when I was in elementary school, so I hope that this post inspires you and your kids to start your own family quilt today.Camper holding memory quilt-674506-edited

A quilt, as defined by Merriam Webster, is a “bed coverlet of two layers of cloth filled with padding (such as down or batting) held in place by ties or stitched designs.” Therefore, quilting is the process of making a quilt! Quilts have three main components: the top, a piece of fabric that is often decorated, the bottom, and the filler, which is the padded section sewn between the top and the bottom to form a kind of sandwich. Quilting has a history that predates the United States, but since the tradition of quilting is so intrinsic to the history of this country, I thought we could start there.

English, Welsh, and Dutch settlers brought their handwork skills with them when they traveled to the New World, as well as their knowledge of the use of padded fabrics in clothes, bedding, and armor all over the world. In the US, quilts had many uses throughout the years, starting mainly as a way to keep people warm at night and prevent cold wind from coming thro

Chintz Whole-Cloth Quilt, circa 1815, United States Courtesy American Folk Art Museum

ugh doors and windows, and evolving into an expressive art form. In the 1700s and 1800s, thousands of quilts were made by women in the US, and many were passed down for centuries.

One of the most popular forms of quilts in the early 1800s was a whole cloth quilt, which was made from a single piece of fabric on the top and another large piece on the bottom, and most of the decoration on this form of quilt was made using corded or padded material. Inspiration for whole cloth quilts came from East Indian fabrics because the highly valued imported Indian cotton was too prized to be cut into pieces. The medallion quilt is anoth

er kind that drew inspiration from Indian art and was decorated with a central image surrounded by other designs. The patchwork or pieced quilt was made from scraps of fabric sewn together, which saved crafters from having to buy large swaths of fabric. The applique quilt, on the other hand, was considered very elegant and was made by using extra pieces of fabric and incredibly detailed needlework to decorate the quilt. Only the wealthy typically had the time and expenses to make this type of quilt. Quilting was so crucial to American communities that it was a tradition for mothers to make their children quilts before they left the house, and for women to sew twelve quilts, including their bridal bed quilt before they were engaged.

“Log Cabin”—Single Block “Courthouse Steps” Variation, by Loretta Pettway, circa 1958Although quilting practices and foundations were brought to the US via European settlers, the country also has a history of African-American quilting traditions that trace back to slavery. Although most textiles in Africa were woven and not quilted, the bold, geometric, colorful aesthetics of fabrics like kente cloth served as inspiration for enslaved women, who were often taught to quilt in order to make help and serve their mistresses.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the practice of quilting died off some but came back in the ‘70s and ‘80s as people expressed a desire to return to handwork skills in the face of increased mechanization. Quilting became an important part of the feminist movements in the ‘70s because it served as means of artistic expression, and after the bicentennial celebration of the United States in 1976, it became a representation of national pride and love for the country.

Unlike sewing, the actual process of quilting hasn’t changed too much over the years, so it is a really cool way to feel connected to women who lived hundreds of years ago, and it is also an amazing way to create a family heirloom that can be passed down to your kids, their kids, and their kids! When starting out quilting, the most important tip is to keep it simple. Choose simple patterns with lots of straight lines, rectangles, and squares, use larger pieces of fabric so there will be less sewing involved, and maybe even buy patterns with precut fabrics so that you don’t have to spend time measuring and cutting your own. You will probably need sewing pins, safety pins, sewing scissors, thread, a seam ripper, a measurement tool, a fabric pencil or a marker, and a rotary cutter, as well as your fabric and patterns! The four stages of quilting include preparation, making the quilt top, quilting, and finally binding it all together, and if you can sew a straight line and are willing to follow instructions, you can definitely make your own quilt! Quilt by Emma Redmond

Now that you’ve learned all about the uniquely American history of quilting, you can grab your kids and get started on your own! For detailed quilting instructions, check out this awesome blog or this great article. If you want your child to have handwork experience but you’re not sure about helping them yourself, you can always send them to the Handwork Studio’s amazing classes.

Finally, I hope everyone has an incredible school year! It’s been awesome learning about different kinds of handwork with you this summer, and I hope this blog series inspired you to get out there and try these crafts yourself! As always, post a picture of your incredible creations on Instagram with the hashtag #SewMoreLove so we can see your art! Happy quilting!

Image Descriptions:
1) Camper holding Memory Quilt, Handwork Studio camp
2) Chintz Whole-Cloth Quilt, 1810-1820
3) Quilt by artist Loretta Pettway, 1958 
4) Quilt by artist Emma Redmond

Tags: Summer Camp, Fun, Summer, Handwork, Inspiration, Kids Activities, Quilt, Memory Quilt, Quilting