By Lois Hoffman
Oh, the sweet memories of snuggling under a heavy quilt (or two or three) when the wind howled outside and snow banked up to the windowsills. The bedroom usually had little or no heat but it was so toasty warm under all those heavy covers. Since those quilts were usually sewn with love by mothers and grandmothers, they warmed the soul too.
With all the modern conveniences of today, I have since opted for the comfort of an electric blanket to warm the bed prior to retiring but after the bed is warm I still snuggle under the old quilts. There is nothing like the best of both worlds.
One of the oldest of American traditions, quilt making has been passed down through the ages, with a few new twists added through the years. The foremost purpose of a quilt was for warmth but since homes have become better insulated, people have become more creative in their uses for these gems. Aside from making beautiful bedspreads, they are used for wall hangings, table runners, placemats and some clothing such as quilted vests.
Special photo quilts are made by printing digital photos on special fabric backed with paper. Then the photo blocks are sewn together with plain fabric blocks to form a pattern. These make treasured keepsakes to be passed down through the generations. Sometimes old jeans or T-shirts are cut into blocks and made into quilts honoring a loved one or remembering a special ball team or some other event. These quilt blocks are the photo or patterned fabric that is repeated with plain-colored blocks to form the design of the quilt.
“Paper” quilting was popular in pioneer days. Paper was used as a pattern and each individual piece of cut fabric was basted around the paper pattern. Paper was a good insulator and was also scarce so women would use old letters and newspaper clippings. Little did they know they were preserving history because these pieces of paper later became a primary source of information about life in colonial times.
There are literally thousands of different quilt patterns, with new ones being created all the time. Some are timeless such as the Lonestar, Wedding Ring and Giant Star. In colonial times, the main focus was just to have enough material to make a quilt, using whatever scraps were on hand. Many times an old blanket or worn-out quilt was used as the middle layer of the new one.
Quite simply, a quilt consists of three layers: the patterned quilt top, the batting or insulating material forming the middle layer, and the backing material for the underside. These three layers are then bound together using one or more of various methods.
Machine quilting has become quite popular with the latest sewing machines that can literally sew just about anything with an array of fancy stitching. “Longarm Quilting” is closely tied to this method. A special frame has bars on which layers of fabric are rolled. These frames are used with professional sewing machines mounted on platforms that ride along the tracks so the machine can move across the layers. Sounds to me like this method would take all the fun out of the project.
Tying is another technique of fastening the layers together, which technically isn’t really quilting at all. Women resort to this method when a quilt is being made to be used and is needed quickly. Yarn or multiple strands of thread are used to sew the material together and the ends are tied with square knots so the quilt can be washed.
Hand quilting is, by far, the prettiest and most popular way of attaching the layers. A running stitch done by hand is sewn across the entire area, binding the layers together. Often a quilting frame or hoop is used to keep the layers taut so the stitches will be more uniform.
Most Amish use this method to create their heirloom quilts. Amish quilts are set aside from others because, even though they are works of art often made to mark special events such as births and weddings, they are made with the intention of being used and stand up to normal wear and tear for many generations. The seams are strong and colorfast materials are used so they can be laundered time and again. These quilts are still made one at a time in people’s homes using the same technology that was used 150 years ago.
People from all over the world still come to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the heart of Amish country to purchase quilts. It is hard to believe how much work does go into these sewn works of art. A queen-size quilt will typically have between 40,000 to 50,000 hand stitches. No wonder they command upwards of $1,000 a piece!
Quilting bees became a popular social event in the mid-19th century. A group of women could gather, exchange fabrics and quilt blocks and gossip all while creating a work of art. Sometimes they would work individually on quilt blocks in the winter and then have a quilting bee in the spring to put them all together.
Today we see more and more groups getting together to work on a community quilting project or just to swap ideas. Modern times have seen some very creative ways to tell a story with a few scraps of material and some thread whereas the original concept of the quilt was just to keep warm. It’s funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same. I still like to snuggle under an old-fashioned quilt because, not only does it warm my toes, but it warms my heart too.
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