Few things are as American as the quilt. These layers of padding and fabric, which make up the quilt, have been popular since Colonial times. No other country on God’s Earth loves the art of quilting as much as the United States. We have been blessed with numerous styles of quilting from many lands. Quilt designs came and went and transformed and born anew.
However popular, the beginning of quilting was not in the United States. Many theorize that it began in Ancient Egypt, millennia ago. One evidence is a carved ivory figure of a Pharaoh wearing a quilted mantle in 3400 BC. The oldest quilt that still survives today is a linen carpet, which was found in a Mongolian cave. Quilting came to Europe in the 12th century. The Crusaders brought back quilted garments worn under their armor. The art of quilting spread throughout Europe.
When the first European settlers came to America, they brought along the art as well. New cloth was scarce commodity. They had to reuse fabrics as much as possible. Quilting was the obvious answer to this dilemma. They made use of fabrics from worn clothing and other sources of fabrics. They patched them together to create useable sheets. The scraps of fabric were cut into patterns that fit into a larger design. Patchwork quilting began. Apart from practical uses, Colonial ladies made hand pieced quilts featuring fine needlework and design.
Quilts were considered very valuable. They were heirlooms handed down to the next generation and then the next and so on. As Americans spread over the continent, names for particular patterns changed. For example, Connecticut’s pine tree pattern could be Ohio’s bear’s path pattern.
When the Industrial Revolution took place, one of the first American industries was the fabric industry. The US manufactured plenty of cotton fabrics. Instead of using worn fabrics, affluent quilters would buy the new fabrics, cut them into pieces and hand piecing them back together to ape patchwork designs. Patterns like that came into vogue during this period because it became a symbol of wealth instead of thrift.
In the 1930’s, during the Depression, companies began selling products, like sugar and flour, in printed fabrics instead of cotton bags. It was a promotional gimmick that quilters took great advantage of. They began quilting with the packaging fabric because during those poverty stricken times access to pretty cloth was at a premium. The fact that necessities had fabrics that could be reused was a great big plus.
Quilting continues today. It is entrenched deeply into our society. It’s a hobby whose practicality has been tested in the worst times in history. And in these troubled times, beginning quilting can help save a penny or two.