The art of making quilts has existed for thousands of years and has been practiced in nearly every part of the world. Modern quilting, however, traces its history back mostly to American colonialism. This process of combining different fabrics using stitching techniques was once utilitarian in nature and unconcerned with aesthetics.
Today’s quilting, on the other hand, is just as decorative as it is practical and is often used as a medium for beautiful works of art. Here’s a brief overview of the rich cultural history of quilting to help you gain a sense of how deeply and profoundly it has affected human life!
While there is extensive evidence of quilting existing in ancient Africa and Asia and being brought to Medieval Europe, its modern form primarily emerged in 1700’s colonial America. Here, quilting was done out of necessity and there was a strong focus on not wasting any of the material and keeping the quilts as practical and effective as possible.
This was extremely helpful for the poor and overworked settlers, but it didn’t exactly produce any great decorative pieces! But it did leave an enduring legacy that remains active and widely practiced even in the 21st century. This legacy is responsible for forming the bridge into the modern world and letting us experience the beauty of quilting for ourselves.
With the start of the Industrial Revolution, huge changes were made to the textile industry that radically changed the process of quilting forever. The creation of the sewing machine, for example, led to quicker and more efficient stitching and this allowed quilting to become a marketable activity.
The massive changes made to the technology and tools used for quilting paved the way for it to move out of the home and into the cultural sphere. Quilting, as an artform, would not exist in the scale that it does today without these technological innovations.
A Social Activity
As quilting began to become more common, it soon transformed itself from a familial chore into a group effort. Sewing circles were formed and countless collaborative projects began which stitched together a huge variety of different materials to make bed covers, blankets, and clothing.
One of the key pieces here was the introduction of the sewing machine in the mid 1800’s, which allowed for these groups projects to be achieved in a reasonable amount of time. The advances in technology led directly to the art of quilting becoming a social phenomenon. This, in turn, started the development of artistic and creative expression using quilting techniques.
Start of an Artform
During the Victorian Era, everything about quilting began to change forever. Large, elaborate, purely decorative pieces began to be sewn together to be hung up and displayed as artwork. Because of this, there was a massive explosion in aesthetically focused quilts that had no practical or utilitarian application. Quilting stopped being a chore and became a true medium for artistic creativity!
This trend, unlike the other, never died out and even to the present day there are countless quilts that are made in colorful, highly illustrative and inventive styles. The beauty of the medium hasn’t been anywhere close to exhausted, so people continue to make quilts for pleasure and the joy of the craft, in addition to its effective uses.
Beginning in the modern period, we’ve seen quilting play an almost indescribably massive role in our culture. In World War II, quilts were used as a fundraising tool for charities such as the Red Cross, while quilts have also been used for activist causes and have played a major role in AIDS memorial campaigns.
Some of the most exciting developments in quilting, however, are taking place in the 21st century. New technological and artistic innovations have taken the medium to new and outside the box places and it remains to be seen how much of the form stands to be improved upon. Quilters everywhere are certainly looking forward to seeing for themselves!