Today is National Quilting Day, a day the National Quilting Association has set aside to recognize the impact of quilting on our culture and the quilting tradition that continues in our country.
According to Julie Johnson's article, History of Quilting, from the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University, the origins of quilting remain unknown, but historians do know that quilting, piecing, and applique were used for clothing and furnishings in diverse parts of the world in early times.
The earliest known quilted garment is on the carved ivory figure of a Pharaoh of the Egyptian First Dynasty about 3400 B.C. In 1924 archaeologists discovered a quilted floor covering in Mongolia. They estimated that it dates from somewhere between the first century B.C. to the second century A.D. There are also numerous references to quilts in literature and also inventories of estates.
Crusaders brought quilting to Europe from the Middle East in the late 11th century. Quilted garments were popular in the Middle Ages. Knights wore them under their armor for comfort. They also used quilted garments to protect the metal armor from the elements.
The earliest known surviving bed quilt is one from Sicily from the end of the fourteenth century. It is made of linen and padded with wool. The blocks across the center are scenes from the legend of Tristan. The quilt is 122 inches by 106 inches and is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
When settlers arrived in the new world, they of course brought with them much of the cultural heritage from Europe. Although it is not known if they brought quilts with them, it is assumed that they brought the art of quilting with them.
The first reference to quilts in America is at the end of the seventeenth century in the listing of a household inventory of a Salem, Massachusetts sea captain. None of the early colonial quilts survive. This makes sense when you consider that for the most part in the early colonial days, quilts were made from fabric that was salvaged from its previous use.
The earliest surviving American pieced quilt is the Saltonstall quilt from 1704. Historians were able to date the Saltonstall quilt in an unusual way. At one time a common technique for quilting was to cut the quilt pieces out of paper and piece them together before starting in on the fabric. This was done in the Saltonstall quilt and the paper pieced quilt was used as an inner lining for the quilt. As the outer fabric wore out, the date on a newspaper came into view, thus giving historians an accurate idea of when the quilt was done.
In the nineteenth century quilt-making flourished especially in the period between 1825 and 1875. As the original colonists had brought quilting from the old world, the settlers who began moving west in the nineteenth century brought quilting with them.
Eventually quilting came to the Great Plains. Quilting was a craft that adapted well to the Great Plains and quilts became an important asset to settlers on the plains. Not only could they be used on beds, they were also useful as covers for doors and windows and as floor mats for the children to play on. In many cases they were also used as currency to pay bills. Although some women continued to use remnants from clothes to piece their quilts, most learned to take advantage of the wide variety of colorful calicos to create works of art.
The wide open spaces and relative isolation of the Great Plains also made the idea of the "quilting bee" attractive. At a quilting bee women from the area would bring quilt tops that were already pieced and work together to quilt the top. The quilting bee gave plains women a chance to socialize. Often a quilting bee would be a full day affair with lunch served to the women who came to help and dinner for all the families. Sometimes there would be a dance in the evening. One of the happier functions of the quilting bee was to help provide young women with quilts for their hope chests.
For the anniversary of National Quilting Day, the National Quilting Association is offering a free quilt pattern.
The theme for 2013 is "Celebrate America", coordinating with the show theme for the 44th annual National Quilting Association Quilt Show. A Nine Patch Stars and Stripes quilt was designed by Kathy Lichtendahl, former NQA communications chair.
Get your free pattern at: nqaquilts.org/free-projects/