European-American Quilting History
In my last article about quilting history called Learn Some Quilting Traditions Passed on for Generations, I mentioned the fact that the African-American quilting tradition is not very well documented. The European-American quilting textile tradition, on the other hand, is only slightly better documented I've discovered.
Starting largely simply to provide warmth for the family members, especially during the winter months, quilting has been constantly evolving over the centuries. The European-American quilting tradition traces its roots back to Europe where quilting was a necessity as mothers and wives had to cover their families for basic warmth. Then it became a practice to make quilts as gifts for weddings or to commemorate births and even deaths in the family. And at times when ink and paper were sparse, quilts were also used to document historical events. It is important to note that when the Amish arrived in America from Europe, they created a beautiful and lasting quilting tradition, using simple designs with strict patterns. The Amish have contributed a lot to the European-American quilting traditions, some of which are still observed until today.
Necessity Quilts and the Contemporary Jeans Quilt Patterns
Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of all invention and in the case of quilt making for early European-American settlers, necessity also started a quilting tradition. It is hard to imagine now, but in the 1700s quilt making was a necessity if you want to keep your family warm, comfortable, and even alive in the cold months!
And because materials and money were more often than not rare and scarce at that time, some of the quilts made were created from feed sacks and just about any fabric available like worn blankets and clothes. Today, there are quilt makers who use old, worn-out jeans as quilt patterns not necessarily out of necessity, but more because they want to recycle fabrics and help preserve the environment.
The Victorian Crazy Quilt Craze
Have you heard of the Victorian Crazy Quilt? Well, these quilt patterns became popular in the late 1800s, probably because of the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in the US, where exquisite English embroidery and Japanese art were exhibited. The satin stitches in the English embroidery, and the Japanese silkscreen and cracked glazed pottery inspired the affluent European-American quilt makers to create unique patterns and to use stitching that looks like fans and spider webs in their quilts. This came to be known as the Victorian Crazy Quilt and it became the national fashion among upper-class women who have access to various fabrics and expensive threads and other embellishments.
The Victorian Crazy quilt craze also spread out into the rural areas where quilters used more practical fabrics and did away with the ornate embroidery and other embellishments. This new craze also allowed them to use the last scraps of fabric from their other projects. Nowadays, a crazy quilt is normally consisting of a combination of many contrasting colors in one quilt. For a more in-depth look at some of these modern quilts, please have a look at our article Contemporary Quilt Makers Who Paint With Fabric.
Commemorative Quilts for Family Events
European-American women also started making quilts to record special events or family celebrations. By this time, quilts had slowly transitioned as design pieces as they were made from commemorative clothes and tee-shirts of deceased loved ones, from baby clothes or wedding dresses. The Missouri Star Commemorative Quilt, for example, was made from a deceased husband's clothes and is comprised of a repeat pattern named the Missouri Star. In between the patterns are lattice strips that were made from the late husband's pants and denim shirts while the border around it was made completely from his clothing.
The Popularity of Applique in Quilt Making
The use of appliques in the European-American quilting tradition started with the use of expensive laces and other ornamental fabrics from Europe and other exotic places. Often, the patterns are stenciled into the already quilted fabric and then the pieces are then re-stitched onto plain cotton fabrics later. These quilts are highly ornamental and are often used as decorative wall hangings and they became quite popular that some of them can still be found in museums and exhibits highlighting quilting traditions of European-Americans in the US.
Quilt Making as A Social Tool
Since quilt making can sometimes take months to finish, quilting circles, also called quilting bees, were soon organized where women came together to share their quilting experiences. Some of them traveled for miles to reach friends who were sewing large quilts and needed an extra hand. The Friendship Cross Within a Cross Quilt, for example, was made by an Amish woman with the help of others. What they did was create a sampler quilt where each quilter in a group would recreate the same square many times. Sometimes, members of a quilting circle or bee would swap quilt squares and each of them can then create their own quilt using the gifts of the other women in their groups. The quilting tradition where women come together to share patterns and help each other is still practiced today all over the world.
You can access all our articles on quilting in one place. On the top menu bar on the far right-hand side, there is a tab for “Quilting”. This will take you to everything we've done on the subject. Please enjoy and happy quilting!