Quilting Lore and Legend Print E-mail
Written by Steffani McChesney   
Monday, 23 February 2009 00:00

Quilting has been around forever. As with anything that has been around for a long time, a lot of legends, myths, and downright inaccuracies have muddied the waters of quilt history. Let’s burst a few bubbles, okay?

Most people think that quilting was a primary pastime of women in early America. The earliest existing quilt in a museum made here dates from 1726, but quilting was not something that all women could indulge in. Most colonial housewives had to spend their time spinning, weaving and sewing clothes and household linens for their families. Affordable cloth was not readily available until around 1840; so only wealthy women could purchase fabric for quilting.

Another fond vision from the past was the quilting bee. They did occur, but not with the frequency that we think they did. In fact, most women quilted alone or with family members at home. There was also an element of pride in completing a quilt, particularly a show quilt such as a bride’s quilt, by oneself. If a woman was a particularly fine quilter, she did not want others who might not be as skillful as she was to work on her quilt. If a quilting bee was held, often only the most competent quilters were invited to participate.

Quilting is not a necessity in today’s world and we have electricity to provide light and power for our sewing machines. We modern quilters often enjoy sitting with our families in the evening watching TV and quilting. Of course, this was not true in the not so distant past. Can you imagine trying to quilt by firelight and a candle? So women did not quilt in the evenings after the dinner dishes were done. There just wasn’t enough light. Quilting was often done outside in fine weather during the summer months. Since women helped with planting and harvesting, quilting had to be done in any spare time left over from these vital chores.

In today’s world we often prize hand quilting, piecing and appliqué over machine work, though this notion is rapidly changing due to the skill of modern day machine quilters. In the past, owning a sewing machine was quite a status symbol so machine quilting, piecing, and appliqué were used extensively by those who could afford one. Even the binding was sewn on by machine, in some instances, to show off that fact.

I hope you have enjoyed exploring these little fictions about quilting. One thing for sure, we have it a lot easier now. Our foremothers did not have all our modern quilt gadgets, or even our wonderful modern fabric, but they managed to make beautiful masterpieces that still inspire and delight us today.


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