A history of quilting.


Patchwork & Quilting

A quilt is a type of blanket, traditionally composed of 3 layers of fibre: a woven cloth top, a layer of batting or wadding and a woven back, combined using the technique of quilting. A quilt is distinguishable from other types of blankets because it is pieced together with several pieces of cloth. Quilting refers to the technique of joining at least two fabric layers by stitches or ties. In most cases, two fabric layers surround a middle layer of batting which is a lighter, insulating layer. Batting is often referred to as wadding in Britain. The patchwork of the top is typically made of a series of blocks (all identical, or of diverse design), which are made sequentially and then assembled. The blocks may be separated quilt by plain fabric strips, called sashing.

Many tops have decorative "borders" surrounding the central panel of the top and enlarging the quilt. The "binding" is the final edge of fabric that covers the entire edge, and seals the batting. Most modern quilts are made of 100% cotton fabric in a light weight. Quilting traditions are particularly prominent in the United States, where the necessity of creating warm bedding met the paucity of local fabrics in the early days of the colonies. Saving or salvaging small scraps of fabric was a part of life for all households. Creativity could be expressed in the block designs, or simple 'utility quilts' with minimal decorative value, could be produced.

Crib quilts for infants were needed in the cold of winter, but even early examples of beautiful baby quilts indicate the efforts that women made to welcome a new baby.

Quilting was often a communal activity, involving women and girls in a family, or in a larger community. The tops were prepared in advance, and a 'quilting bee' was arranged, during which the actual quilting was completed by multiple people. Quilts were frequently made to commemorate major life events, such as marriages.

Quilting Styles


Amish quilts are reflections of the Amish way of life. As a part of their religious commitment, Amish people have chosen to reject "worldly" elements in their dress and lifestyle, and their quilts reflect this. Traditionally, they use only solid colours in their clothing and the quilts they intend for their own use, in colours that were approved by their local religious leaders. Early Amish quilts were typically made of light-weight wool fabric, off the same bolts of fabric used for family clothing items. Black is a dominant colour, in the oldest Amish quilt styles, particularly in quilts made in Eastern Pennsylvania. Although classic Amish quilts appear austere from a distance, the craftsmanship is often of the highest quality and feature lush quilting patterns that contrast with the plain background.


Baltimore album quilts originated in the region around Baltimore, Maryland in the 1840s, where a unique and highly developed applique style of quilting briefly flourished. The quilts are created as album quilts, which are collections of appliqued blocks, each with a different design. The designs often feature floral patterns, but many other motifs are used, as well. Baskets of flowers, wreaths, buildings, books, and birds were common motifs. Designs were often highly detailed, and displayed the quilt-maker's skill.


African-American women developed a distinctive style of quilting. Harriet Powers, a slave-born African American woman, made two famous story quilts. She was just one of the many African American quilters who contributed to the evolution of quilting During the American Civil War, slaves used quilts as a means to share and transmit secret messages to escape slavery and travel the Underground Railroad.


Henry VIII of England's household inventories record dozens of "quyltes" and "coverpointes" among the bed linen, including a green silk one for his first wedding to Catherine of Aragon quilted with metal threads, linen-backed, and worked with roses and pomegranates. Otherwise known as Durham quilts, North Country quilts have a long history in north-east England, dating back to the Industrial Revolution and beyond. North Country quilts are often "whole-cloth" quilts that emphasize the quilting. Some are made of sateen fabrics, which further heighten the effect of the quilting.