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Quilting History


Amish Lady Quilting

The history of quilting in the Arthur Il. area goes back to the mid 1800's when the first settlers pushed into the swampy area west of the Kaskaskia river. They brought with them functional family quilts and the skills still used today to create more. The Amish began moving into the Arthur area around 1860 and brought traditional quilting skills from the Pennsylvania Amish region. The Amish today, along with many "English" as we are known, continue to develop quilting as both a functional and decorative folk-art.

The Quilt History list was created to provide a forum for people around the world who are interested in antique quilts and related textiles to discuss the historical aspects of quilting. We discuss all aspects of antique quilts - fabrics, design, color, etc. - as well as the stories behind them.  We also share our experiences with the more practical aspect of antique quilts - finding, washing, researching, restoring and even reproducing.

Some buying, selling and swapping is allowed, but our primary focus is on learning from each other by exchanging stories, research, tips and techniques.  We are a very open and sharing group composed of scholars, writers, teachers, collectors, quilt appraisers, restorers, librarians, museum curators, and other professionals. We report findings, review books and articles, and share information about exhibitions, collections, publications, and conferences. General as well as such specific topics as quilt documentation projects, textile history, oral history projects, and quilter biographies are welcomed. The list open to everyone with an interest in the documentation and study of quilts, quilters, and quilting history.

Excerpted from Dating Quilts-A Brief Overview

Quilts and quilt making are a reflection of the life and times of the women who made quilts. Although the technique of quilting existed throughout history (quilted items have been discovered in Egyptian tombs, for example, and French knights used quilted jackets under their armor), quilts as we think of them didn't start showing up on the American scene until just prior to 1800. I believe the earliest existing European quilts are a pair of whole cloth trapunto ones, telling the story of Tristan and Isolde dating from the early 1400's.  The oldest quilts in the Smithsonian collection go back to about 1780.

A side note from The Patchwork Pilgrimage:

"cope.jpg (43278 bytes)Further proof that ornamental patchwork is no newcomer to the church is provided by this fascinating pieced silk chasuble that is believed
to have been made around 1540. During the Reformation, Roman Catholics were driven underground, and in England, persecution was given additional impetus by King Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon in 1533, when he broke with Rome and forced his subjects to swear allegiance to himself as the head of the church. Recusant Catholic priests traveled to private houses to celebrate mass in peril of their lives, and many were forced to disguise themselves as peddlers, carrying their sacramental paraphernalia around in backpacks. Catholic families built hiding places in their mansions that are known today as "priest holes". The chasuble was probably deliberately made in patchwork so that if a priest were challenged, it could pass as a bedcover. For example, the clearly defined cross would probably have escaped detection when the garment was folded or rolled. The maker was Elizabeth Belling Arundel, a member of one of the leading Catholic families of England, and the chasuble has remained in the possession of the Arundel family from that time. (Photograph by Jim Pascoe reproduced by kind permission of Lord Talbot of Malahide)."

In colonial America, thread and needles were expensive. Cotton was not readily available - the cotton gin was not invented until 1793 - and so the majority of fabrics used in clothing were linens, wools and silks. What you might have seen prior to 1800 were quilted petticoats, worn for warmth. Quilts were almost always made of wool, unless they were remade from bed curtains or quilted petticoats.  However, the idea that all early quilts were made of worn clothing is a myth. Not to say that there weren't any, but it is far more likely that a quilt would be made out of fabric bought specifically for that purpose, possibly to match bed curtains.  It might also use the extra fabric left over after making clothes. While it is true that many women were weaving their own fabrics in the early 1800's, the tremendous time and energy needed to produce hand woven goods was generally not put into a luxury such as a quilt.  A home weaver would be more likely to weave a blanket or coverlet.  Generally, quilts were made by wealthier Americans on the Eastern Seaboard who had access to a tremendous variety of fabrics brought in by ship. Many early quilts still in existence today, therefore, are either made of imported fabric or have some imported fabric along with the American.  Backings were often of linen, which was considered a utility fabric. The rest of the story...