by Kate McCreight, guest blogger
Continuing my obsession with all things sewing, quilting seems like a natural follow-up from my last Handmade History post about fabric. The practice of quilting fabrics for warmth in clothing and bed coverings dates back thousands of years and is practiced the world over. However, for our purposes, I'll just be looking at history of American quilting, and specifically quilts that were made and used in Minnesota.
|Blazing sun pattern (sunburst variation), detail of patchwork quilt, c. 1850, Winona, MN. From the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, 65.194.4|
|Wool felt appliqué pattern, River Bird|
Quilts were (and are) made for a variety of uses, the most primary reason for the early settlers and pioneers were as objects for keeping warm. For early westward traveling settlers, quilts made in newly settled parts of the United States were largely utilitarian, made from usable scraps of older blankets and clothing. The quilts were typically patchwork in nature.
Quilting was not always a solitary affair, and quilting bees provided not only a chance to work on a large and sometimes complex design together, but also a chance for women to socialize. Quilting bees typically took place during daylight hours, and were often outdoors to get the best possible lighting for making small decorative stitches.
|Women quilting together, 1895. From the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, negative #46770.|
By the 1840s, as technology and transportation of goods advanced, fabrics became more widely available, and decorative quilting grew in popularity. Victorian ladies were schooled in various needlework arts, including quilting, and the richness of the pieces they created were evidence of a skilled lady of leisure. Alongside other forms of needlework, quilts were placed into competitions at state and county fairs.
Quilts were made not only for their basic purpose of a warm bed covering, but also as the intention of being family heirlooms and commemorating events.
|Commemorative Quilt, Spirit of St. Louis, c 1927-1939. This quilt was made in the colors of the French flag to commemorate Charles Lindbergh's1927 solo Atlantic flight. From the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, 2010.21.1|
Quilt kits becomes available at the turn of the 20th century. All the fabric arrived cut, with stitching marks in place to guide the quilting and placement of appliqués.
|Pineapple design quilt kit, c 1930-1936, Morningside, MN. Pre-cut pattern pieces, binding, and instructions. From the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, 1999.60.1|
|Applique kit quilt, c 1920. Author's collection.|
|Detail of above appliqué kit quilt. The small blue dots mark the quilting lines. Author's collection.|
As America fell deeper into the Great Depression, quilting was a practical way to use scraps to make a greater, useful whole. Fabric remnants from clothing, flour sacks, and chicken feed bags were incorporated into patchwork quilt blocks.
By the 1950s, interest in quilting died down. In an age of growth and prosperity, quilting was seen as a painful reminder of the leaner hard times of the Great Depression and sacrifices of World War II. Fortunately, quilting experienced a revival in the 1970s, alongside an increasing interest in handcraft in general.
|Many colors crown quilt, Hartford Avenue Quilts|
Quilts of the 21st century are not far removed from their 19th century siblings: both beautiful and utilitarian, created by hand or machine, unique expressions of the artist who created them.
|Rainbow stripes quilt, Aimee's Homestead|
For further reading:
International Quilt Study Center and Museum
Minnesota Historical Society