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Domestic Quilting in America

Domestic Quilting in America 

This week is all about us. What our quilts were used for, how they have evolved over time. Enjoy!

Quilting came to the “New World” with English and Dutch settlers. These groups did not quilt at first. Quilts had utilitarian uses. It is rare to find a quilt surviving from before mid-1800s. Most beds were covered in coarse, woven blankets. There wasn’t time or resources before the mid-1800s. Feathered blankets were used on their beds. Tied comforters were used because there wasn’t time to quilt. Tying kept the middle layer in place. It was not a regular activity in the women’s busy days. At night, there wouldn’t have been enough light for quilting. Blankets were patched with clothing fabric scraps or if not able to be patched used in the middle of a new pieced quilt. Early settlers continued to use worn quilts as batting. If you find an old quilt, have an expert undo a small bit of corner binding and you can see how many layers may be inside.


Only the wealthy quilted in colonial America. They would have done whole cloth, medallion, or broidery perse (“Imported prints were hard to come by so this method of quilting was a popular way to stretch the use of these lovely, printed fabrics. Women would cut out flowers and other motifs from a small amount of this fabric. They would then carefully turn a tiny seam and applique each to a large piece of solid fabric.” Appliqued quilts were considered “better’ than pieced quilts. Medallion quilts had and still have a focus centerpiece and several borders around the center medallion. Borders of the medallion quilts ranged from simple pieces to elaborate patchwork, applique, and embroidery.


By the mid-19th century fabric was more available. The invention of the steam engine and mechanized looms increased the amount of fabric available. Surprisingly, the invention of the sewing machine did not change quilting for many decades. Hand done quilts were the norm. Quilting bees were also rare. They were held to help the bride-to-be finish her quilts before her wedding. They were also gatherings for sharing of news, recipes for cooking, and to finish several quilts all in a day. Quilting bees were usually small groups due to interior space. Quilting frames could take up most of a room’s space.  Bees were also held to help those getting ready to head west finish quilts for the trip. Quilts had many uses for those traveling west. They were protection on wagons from Native American arrows. They were used to cover drafty doors and windows and to partition rooms in early cabins.


Quilts were a little more common from after the Civil War forward. During the Great Depression everyone used what they had for clothing and quilts People didn’t have money for blankets, so they pieced the fabric scraps they had together. During the Great Wars, quilts were used to raise money for war efforts. During WWI, manufactured wool was taken by the government for the soldiers. The wool blankets were needed for the soldiers.  Pieced quilts were made to replace the blankets. Quilts were also raffled off to raise money for the war effort. WWII saw Signature Quilts used to raise money. Individuals and businesses paid to have their signature embroidered on a quilt. The blocks with the signatures were sewn together and raffled. All the money went to the Red Cross.


After WWII, quilting decreased due to it being perceived as something you did during lean times. Society was being mechanized/automated - homes, cooking, sewing, transportation, etc. Things were plentiful and good. In the 1970s - 80s, there was a return to the earth movement. This revived quilting. People learned how to quilt from the previous generations that had quilted. Throughout history, depressions always seen an increase in sewing and quilting. And, there has been a resurgence of sewing and quilting due to Covid.     

If this history interests you, there is lots written about the history of quilting in America. A few good sites are:

Victoria and Albert Museum

Quilting In America


If you have an old quilt that you want to know more about you can go to:
  The Virginia Quilt Museum
  The Valentine Museum 
  The American Civil War Museum
If they can't look at it, they may know someone who appraises quilts.

So come quilt with us. We have a beginning quilting class starting the beginning of June. This coming Saturday (April 24th), we have a class on strip quilting for beginners. Planned, just not scheduled, are beginning clothing construction, the Poppins Bag, intermediate Foundation Paper Piecing, free motion quilting, Bargello, and Half-Square Triangles and Flying Geese. Keep an eye on our website for these classes.


Hope the pollen isn’t getting to you too much.

Happy sewing

Phyllis and the QA staff

Quilting Adventures                                                                     Hours: 
6943 Lakeside Avenue                                                                  Tues thru Sat  10 - 4 
Richmond VA  23228                                                                     Sun - Mon  Closed
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Quilting Adventures
6943 Lakeside Ave
Richmond, VA 23228
(804) 262-0005
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    Tues, Wed: 10 am-5 pm
    Thursday 10 am-7 pm 
    Friday 10 am-5 pm 
    Saturday 10 am-5 pm
    Sunday 12 pm-3 pm 
    Closed Monday
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