Finding History in Quilts
Quilting is History
Did you know that history can be found in a quilt? Surprised? Don’t be. Quilting has been around for almost two thousand years. Although you won’t find a two thousand year old quilt at the local antique store, archaeologists have found that quilting was done in Asia and the Middle East centuries ago. It is a part of our history.
Through this artwork, one can trace the development of societies and technology. As new developments were made, the quilts changed. Quilts were a beautiful reflections of the times they were made.
The Early Years
Earlier quilting was not what we think of today. Animal furs were used as bed covers instead of handmade quilts. Women began to see how they could be created for beauty as well as function. Wall hangings might have portions done in quilting to enhance it. Formal clothing could be found with quilted breast pieces or even cloaks. Quilting was warm and attractive when done right.
Quilting could be found in many areas of the nobility's home. There were the wall hangings that helped to keep the drafty castle warm. There were the ornate bodices the women had and the coats the men wore that signified their rank and prosperity.
The small variety of fabrics limited the ability to produce large pieces. Fabrics were not mass produced until the 1800’s. Before then, fabric was scarce and used for functionality for the wide spread masses and some decorative pieces for the wealthy. This is not saying that quilted bed coverings were never made in some cultures. In fact, some European cultures would layer fabrics to help protect them from the cold and quilted designs on the finished product.
The decorative pieces were smaller and used extremely fine fabric. Upper class used quilting on their winter clothing to give them a more elegant look.
The designs and the quantity of the quilted pieces say quite a bit about history. If you ever get the chance to view and touch an actual piece of medieval cloth, don’t pass it up. The textures were different. The colors were different. Each period gave quilting a whole new dimension.
Each era had their own designs. You can follow styles and patterns that can be found in architecture and fashion. Every era displayed it in the quilts as well. As cultures discovered new fabric, their quilting reflected that.
When silk was introduced to Europe, it began to appear in quilted pieces. As new colors were developed and coloring methods improved, it appeared in the quilted items. History is reflected in each finished piece. You can trace the development of cloth and the science of new colors developed.
In the 1800’s quilting exploded in homes, especially in America. Once new methods of producing fabrics developed during the industrial revolution, a variety of fabrics and pattern choices became available. It was more affordable now for the middle and lower class families. Quilting became more common and the amount of bed coverings and other pieces increased. The true birth of a beautiful hobby was born. It was not just for nobility anymore. The world had completely changed.
A Personal History
Quilting can also be much more personal in its history. If you are still blessed with the opportunity to speak to grandparents and great-grandparents who created some of your family quilts, ask them about the fabric used. You’ll find Great Aunt Lucy’s christening gown, Uncle Bob’s jeans, someone’s favorite shirt, and someone else’s party dress. The history of one’s family can be found in the quilt that graces the guest bed.
Some people put names on their quilts or other personal information. You can see the history of an entire generation within a single quilt.
Check Out Some Quilts
History is everywhere. Look around and begin asking family members where it all came from. You might be surprised at what is in your home. Go to the local museum. You might find some antique pieces that speak a volume of history to you.