History of Quilting

Do you need some inspiration or just want to see a bit of history?
Visit the Quilt Index, part of The Alliance for American Quilts to view over 47,000 quilts, both historic and contemporary quilts from public and private collections.
"The Alliance for American Quilts (AAQ) is a nonprofit 501c3 organization established in 1993 whose mission is to document, preserve, and share our American quilt heritage by collecting the rich stories that historic and contemporary quilts, and their makers, tell about our nation's diverse peoples and their communities."  
One of the collections included in the Quilt index is the Texas Quilt Search and the Winedale Quilt Collection at the Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.   There you can see quilts like the Prickly Pear Quilt shown above.
The Texas Quilt Museum will open in fall of 2011, during the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Texas. It will be the showpiece of a major celebration of Texas quilt art both at the Museum and at International Quilt Festival in Houston, which will host bus tours to the Museum's grand opening.
A not-for-profit entity, the Museum will operate under the aegis of The Quilt Institute. It will be housed in two historic 1890s buildings, which will provide a fine showcase for both antique and contemporary quilt art with their high ceilings, brick walls, and original hardwood floors. Home for the new Museum is the picturesque Central Texas town of La Grange
Another place for inspiration is the Online Quilt MuseumA World Showcase of Extraordinary Quilts, visit the Exhibits featuring an eclectic mix of quilt topics, and Galleries exhibiting the works of individual quilters. Quilters are encouraged to exhibit their own Gallery of quilts. We could set up a gallery of our quilts to show off all your hard work!
Other sites to visit:
  • The National Quilt Museum - in Paducah, Kentucky
  • International Quilt Study & Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • History of Quilts - Patches from the Past-Scraps of Textile, Needlework & Quilt History
  • Womenfolk - Tour of America's Quilting Through Time
  • The Quilts of Gee's Bend-Auburn University’s program in Women’s Studies has undertaken an ongoing interdisciplinary project to study the Quilts of Gee's Bend and develop strategies and materials for making them a part of the cultural education of Alabama’s – and America’s – children.
  •  The Quilter's Hall of Fame - honors those who have made outstanding contributions to the world of quilting, located in Marion, IN.
  • The Great Lakes Quilting Center at the Michigan State University - has evolved from the sustained and significant quilt-related activities and resources at the Michigan State University Museum and the museum's long-standing interest in and commitment to preserving and presenting traditional arts history. The Michigan Quilt Project, begun at the museum in 1984, not only spearheaded the documentation of the state's quilting history, but also stimulated interest in strengthening the museum's quilt collection, upgrading its care, and expanding its use.  Check out their links page.


Quilts and techniques used range from the traditional, such as patchwork blocks, to the art quilts and thread painting. Checkout these photos from the International Quilt Festivals on Flicker.
The National Quilt Museum hosted a juried quilt exhibit in conjunction with the 2010 World Equestrian Games which was being held for the 1st time outside of Europe, in Kentucky. “A Horse’s Tale” exhibit was a delight to horse lovers and quilt lovers alike. The exhibit featured 23 quilts. To see the current exhibits click here.
Quilt Barn Tours in the Midwest... from Living in the Midwest Magazine The beginning of the modern barn quilt trend is generally credited to Donna Sue Groves, an Ohio Arts Council field representative, who in 2001 promised her mother she'd paint a quilt square on the family barn. She eventually envisioned a trail of barn quilts through southern Ohio that would draw visitors to Adams County, boosting the economy and preserving the rich American quilting tradition.

In the last few years, Donna's vision has spread well beyond Adams County: Other areas in Ohio and surrounding states have started quilt barn trails to bring visitors to rural areas and provide appealing public art projects in the countryside. There now number over a 1000 barns in 21 states.

Tidbits of Quilting History -Take a stroll through history and discover how quilt blocks were named, how fabric dyes were made using plants and bugs, and little know facts (and maybe myths) about quilting through the ages.  From theQuiltingCoach.com:
Origins of Quilting?  Some believe that quilting began in New England as an outgrowth of a limited, affordable supply of fabric coming from Europe.  Others credit the Amish and Mennonites. According to Rachel Pellman and Joanne Ranck in their book "Quilts among the Plain People," quilting is an ancient art, dating back to Egypt, China and India.  These cultures discovered the insulation value of layering three fabrics together, and created clothing using this technique. The Crusaders carried examples of this craft literally on their backs -- as quilted clothing under their armour -- and introduced quilting to England.  Lest we get carried away and deny the Americans their due, the combination of patchwork and quilting did merge in early America.  While exquisite quilts were made in Europe, the hardships of the New World and the scarcity of fabric caused the women to become resourceful, thus patchwork quilts were created from whatever scraps of clothing, bed sheets, drapes, flour sacks, or any other thing that resembled fabric. 
 "Sew It Yourself--Home Sewing, Gender, & Culture 1890-1930" - A Rutgers University PhD history department dissertation by Sarah Gordon on women and sewing. Embedded in the online.pdf are oral interviews with a number of women sewers who recall their own sewing experiences in their youth or their mother's or grandmother's.

Infinite Variety
Check out these red & white quilts spanning at least 158 years, the earliest dated one is 1853. "Infinite Variety," the red and white quilt exhibit that has the quilt world abuzz. More than 650 quilts were on display at the Park Avenue Armory (which is breathtaking all by itself) in an installation by Thinc Design (click on About Our Work) that can only be described as genius. It's hard to articulate how it looked and how it felt, how quilters and non-quilters alike were moved not only by the quilts but also by the setting. It was reverential, cathedral-like in its magnificence.

The quilts are all owned by Joanna Rose, a self-described "accumulator" whose first red and white quilt was a gift at the birth of her first child some 54 years ago. When Joanna's husband asked her what she wanted for her 80th birthday, she requested "something I have never seen before, and something that would be a gift to the City." With this exhibit, both were accomplished.

You can enjoy the exhibit through a wealth of online resources:
—The New York Times tells part of
the story.
—See Martha Stewart's
video coverage.
flickr.com, search for "infinite variety quilts" for spectacular photos.
—Find QM's
Infinite Variety blog post on Quilty Pleasures.
—The Museum of American Folk Art has informative
exhibition pages and a photo-rich Facebook page.