The History of Quilting

Posted by The Home School in the Woods Team on

Intricate and beautiful, yet durable and practical – quilting is a craft that provides more than just a warm blanket for frosty nights. Used initially to repurpose old scraps of fabric, quilting has evolved into a unique art form and social hobby.

How exactly did patchwork quilting become the beloved craft it is today? We'll need to rewind the clock a couple of centuries to answer that! In this article, we'll share a brief history of quilting and a few historical patterns you can use to teach your kids how to quilt. 

What Is Quilting?

Quilting is a method that involves stitching together layers of fabric to make clothing and bedding for protection and warmth. Similar to most ancient crafts, quilting began as a way to reuse old materials purposefully. 

The word quilt is Latin for culcita, meaning a bolster or cushion. Culcita can be used as a noun or a verb. As a noun, it means "a three-layered stitched bed covering," and as a verb, it means "to stitch through the layers as a way to hold them together."

Where Did Quilting Originate?

Long before the quilting craft arrived in North America, it was being used across the pond.

The quilting we know today is believed to have originated in Europe during the Crusades. It's said that the Turks first began wearing quilted fabric under their armor to keep warm from the harsh climate. The design proved so good that it rapidly evolved into bed coverings and other forms of clothing. 

As time went on, quilting evolved into an art form with many different techniques and variations. Particularly during the Victorian era, quilters were known for making "crazy quilts," a mix-matched quilt that followed no geometric pattern. 

You can find some of the earliest European quilts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, including one of the oldest surviving quilts, the Tristan Quilt, made around 1360 in Sicily. 

Quilting in America

It wasn't until the Colonial period that quilting was introduced to America by English and Dutch settlers. The technique was loved by homemakers, as they could use otherwise discarded resources to make functional items. 

Compared to the beautifully constructed quilts we see today, these were far from perfect and didn't involve elaborate stitching and fabrics. Instead, they were made with one purpose in mind, which was to keep people warm!

Early settlers primarily used quilts as warm bed coverings and curtains to block cold air from entering through doors and windows. If a blanket became worn, you could patch it up, use it as a filler for a new blanket, or combine it with other blankets. 

Once fabrics were manufactured and more affordable, women found they had time to quilt more intricately, now that they didn't have to make their own yarn and fabric. This allowed them to perfect quilting and transform it into an art form, creating beautiful heirlooms. 

Whole cloth applique quilts peaked in America between 1750-1850 with pioneer quilt patterns like the broderie perse and medallion quilts being popular. 

By the time the Civil War rolled around, quilts were being made in the North to fundraise money and keep soldiers warm while off at war. Quilts also became sentimental gifts to give away, whether for the birth of a new baby or marriage. 

The sewing machine was introduced in 1846 and made sewing accessible for most people. Album quilts or friendship quilts became a popular project among women in sewing circles, each sewer stitching and signing a single square to be then sewn into a quilt and given as a keepsake to friends and family. 

Yo-yo quilts became popular in the 1920s. These scrunchy circles were sewn on top of fabric and resembled the round shape of wooden yo-yo toys. 

Then there was the Great Depression, which was known for the feed sack quilt. This quilt was made out of cloth animal-feed or flour sacks. They were so popular that quilters would share their patterns in the local newspaper so all thrifty homemakers could take advantage of these affordable quilts. 

Introducing Your Child to Quilting 

Today, quilting is a popular hobby with endless patterns, designs, and stitches to choose from. With projects of all levels, even children can learn how to make a patchwork quilt! 

Quilting is a one-of-a-kind hands-on craft that teaches children practical skills like cutting, measuring, piecing, and sewing. This craft can be introduced as a home economics project or a history project to accompany early America's learning. 

We cover both friendship quilts and yo-yo quilts in our American history studies. You can find our yo-yo quilt pattern in our Industrial Revolution Through the Great Depression study and our friendship quilt pattern in our Early 19th Century in America study.

Looking for more historical craft projects? Check out our articles on penny rugs and paper quilling! 

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  • Love the article’s. Very informative.

    Carole Ellison on

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