American Quilting

Quilting in America started out of necessity, then, as living conditions grew less harsh and materials became more readily available, grew into an art form. It remains a popular form of recreation today, as quilters use their skills to create masterpieces or praise their heritage.

Early European settlers in America used quilts as bed coverings and as hangings over doors and windows to keep cold air out. When a blanket grew thin from use, it was patched, sewed to other blankets, or used as filler for a quilt. Early quilts, then, were usually either plain/whole cloth quilts (three pieces of solid materials quilted together in a type of cloth sandwich), or basic patchwork quilts.

This quilt, the oldest in the Museum’s collection, was made by Maria Victor in 1802. It has a cotton muslin base with quilted sections and some applique areas.

This quilt, the oldest in the Museum’s collection, was made by Maria Victor in 1802. It has a cotton muslin base with quilted sections and some applique areas.

A third type of quilts, called applique quilts, began to grow in popularity as prosperity and the availability of more materials allowed quilters to put more time and money into their quilts. Applique quilts, when contrasted to the traditional “utility” patchwork quilt, were considered the “best” or “show” quilt. As the 1800s progressed, mothers and grandmothers began making heirloom applique quilts for their children or grandchildren, a tradition for quilters that lasts to this day.

Made around 1840, this is an applique quilt with roller-printed cotton chintz. It has a plain cotton background with an applied border consisting of a floral meander. Another floral meander is in the center of the quilt, in a “Tree of Life” design.

Made around 1840, this is an applique quilt with roller-printed cotton chintz. It has a plain cotton background with an applied border consisting of a floral meander. Another floral meander is in the center of the quilt, in a “Tree of Life” design.

This quilt is pieced white cotton with green and red calico in a modified “reel” pattern with alternating rounded and pointed petals. Its geometric border alternates green and red diamonds in a zig-zag arrangement. It was made in the 1850s.

This quilt is pieced white cotton with green and red calico in a modified “reel” pattern with alternating rounded and pointed petals. Its geometric border alternates green and red diamonds in a zig-zag arrangement. It was made in the 1850s.

This crib quilt was made in 1869 for Georgia Morgan, a Lynchburg  artist who studied art at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and later at the Academie Julian in Paris. The quilt has a colorful patchwork design with black borders.

This crib quilt was made in 1869 for Georgia Morgan, a Lynchburg  artist who studied art at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and later at the Academie Julian in Paris. The quilt has a colorful patchwork design with black borders.

The Victorian Crazy Quilt began to grow in popularity among the upper classes in the mid-1800s. By the turn of the century quilts with asymmetrical fabric pieces in abstract arrangements were common among quilters in all classes, as fabrics such as flannels, denims, and cottons were incorporated.

When America entered into the Great Depression, many families had to turn once again to quilting for necessity. Following the economic recovery, fewer people were interested in making items by hand they could now afford to buy, and during the 1950s and 1960s little general interest in quilting existed. Quilting experienced a boost in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s as the anti-materialism movement of the late 1960s led to a desire among young people to cultivate hand skills. The American Bicentennial celebration in 1976 also contributed to the rising interest in quilting, and many women turned to quilting as a way to express patriotism and memorialize the past.

This early 20th-century quilt was hand-sewn with scalloped borders. Its cream-colored background is outlined with red piping. The quilt is filled with green and red flowers.

This early 20th-century quilt was hand-sewn with scalloped borders. Its cream-colored background is outlined with red piping. The quilt is filled with green and red flowers.

Quiltmaking in the 21st century remains a popular leisure activity, and many active quilters call Lynchburg their home. 

This quilt is titled “Vintage Landmarks: Lynchburg, Virginia”. It was designed and made in Lynchburg by Frances B. Calhoun from 1998-1999. It features several prominent and historic Lynchburg landmarks.

This quilt is titled “Vintage Landmarks: Lynchburg, Virginia”. It was designed and made in Lynchburg by Frances B. Calhoun from 1998-1999. It features several prominent and historic Lynchburg landmarks.

If you want to learn more about quilt making in American history click here. To learn more about the different types of quilts, see this Quilting Gallery.