The basic patchwork technique came to America in the seventeenth century with the early colonists, but it was far from being the art it later became. The frugal nature of American women combined with their love of beautiful things caused them to develop quilt making to a sophisticated art, practiced by most women as early as the eighteenth century.
In early American homes quilts were a necessity of vital importance to all, especially in the settlements where the winters were cold. Here in the mountains, the pioneer's poorly heated log houses made it necessary for an adequate supply of bedding.
To make the great amount of bedding needed, every scrap and remnant of leftover fabric was saved. The best parts of worn-out garments were carefully saved and cut into quilt pieces. Women eagerly exchanged different colored pieces with one another, storing every scrap in special bags to sew later into colorful quilts. The main idea, though, was to produce a quilt that was warm and would withstand the greatest amount of wear possible.
Patched and re-patched, the older ragged quilts were even used to fill newer ones, tacking a new cover and lining together. Nothing was wasted. The piecing and quilting was a favorite pastime of both old and young. Piecing was one of the first things a young girl learned and she could usually start piecing her first quilt around the age of eight.
Americans have never stopped making quilts, from colonial days when every bit of cloth was precious right on up to today.
Quilting has been practiced for thousands of years. Soldiers of the Middle Ages wore padded and quilted coats and hoods under their armor. The Dutch and English brought quilts to America to protect themselves from the severe cold of the winters.
Quilting was a favorite art in frontier homes. Women and girls wore quilted petticoats. Quilts covered the backs of chairs and fireside benches as a protection against drafts of cold air. Quilting bees were very popular in the afternoons with their families joining them for supper and dancing in the evenings.
Interesting and beautiful quilt designs were developed and passed on from generation to generation. Some quilts portrayed historical events. Figures of lovebirds often decorated the quilts of young brides.
Today, when homemade bed covers are no longer a necessity, we still make quilts for their beauty and our joy in craftsmanship.
~ Emily Nixon