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Quilting facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quilter and quilting in the Bazaar of Nishapur 11
Quilter in Bazaar of Nishapur, Iran
Gee's Bend quilting bee
Women of Gee's Bend, Alabama quilting, 2005
Caraco jacket in printed cotton, 1770-1790, skirt in quilted silk satin, 1750-1790
Quilted skirt (silk, wool and cotton - 1770-1790), Jacoba de Jonge-collection MoMu, Antwerp / Photo by Hugo Maertens, Bruges.

Quilting is the process of sewing two or more layers of fabric together to make a thicker padded material, usually to create a quilt or quilted garment. Typically, quilting is done with three layers: the top fabric or quilt top, batting or insulating material and backing material, but many different styles are adopted.

The process of quilting uses a needle and thread to join two or more layers of material to make a quilt. The quilter's hand or sewing machine passes the needle and thread through all layers and then brings the needle back up. The process is repeated across the entire area where quilting is wanted. Rocking, straight or running stitches are commonly used with these stitches being functional and/or decorative. Quilting is done to create bed coverings, art quilt wall hangings, clothing, and a variety of textile products. Quilting can produce different effects depending on the chosen pattern(s), such as a uniform effect across the material, or with dense quilting, can flatten one area so that another stands out.

The whole process of creating a quilt or quilted garment also involves other steps such as designing, cutting, piecing, appliqué, and binding. A person who works at quilting is termed a quilter. Quilting can be done by hand, via a sewing machine, or by a specialized longarm quilting system.

Quilt stores often sell fabric, thread, patterns and other goods that are used for quilting. They often have group sewing and quilting classes where one can learn how to sew or quilt.

History

Early quilting

The origins of quilting remain unknown but sewing techniques of piecing, appliqué, and quilting have been used for clothing and furnishings in diverse parts of the world for several millennia.

The earliest known quilted garment is depicted on the carved ivory figure of a Pharaoh dating from the ancient Egyptian First Dynasty (c. 3400 BC). In 1924 archaeologists discovered a quilted floor covering in Mongolia, estimated to date between 100 BC and 200 AD.

In Europe, quilting has been part of the needlework tradition from about the fifth century, with early objects containing Egyptian cotton, which may indicate that Egyptian and Mediterranean trade provided a conduit for the technique. However, quilted objects were relatively rare in Europe until approximately the twelfth century, when quilted bedding and other items appeared after the return of the Crusaders from the Middle East. The medieval quilted gambeson, aketon and arming doublet were garments worn under or instead of armor of maille or plate armor. These developed into the later quilted doublet worn as part of fashionable European male clothing from the fourteenth to seventeenth century. The earliest known surviving European bed quilt is from late-fourteenth-century Sicily: the Tristan quilt made of linen and padded with wool. The blocks across the center are scenes from the legend of Tristan. The quilt is 320 × 287 cm (126 × 113 in) and is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The word quilt comes from the Latin culcita meaning a stuffed sack, but it came into the English language from the French word cuilte.

American quilts

Wholecloth Blue Resist Quilt, c. 1760-1800
This early American wholecloth quilt was made in the Colonial period, c. 1760-1800. The blue resist fabric includes bold, fanciful botanical motifs. Collection of Bill Volckening.

In American Colonial times, quilts were predominantly whole-cloth quilts–a single piece of fabric layered with batting and backing held together with fine needlework quilting. Broderie perse quilts were popular during this time and the majority of pierced or appliqued quilts made during the 1170-1800 period were medallion-style quilts (quilts with a central ornamental panel and one or more borders.)). Patchwork quilting in America dates to the 1770s, the decade the United States gained its independence from England. These late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century patchwork quilts often mixed wool, silk, linen, and cotton in the same piece, as well as mixing large-scale (often chintz) and small-scale (often calico) patterns. Some antique quilts made in North America have worn-out blankets or older quilts as the internal batting layer, quilted between new layers of fabric and thereby extending the usefulness of old material.

Star of Bethlehem Quilt
Star of Bethlehem Quilt, 1940 from the Brooklyn Museum

During American pioneer days, foundation piecing became popular. Paper was cut into shapes and used as a pattern; each individual piece of cut fabric was basted around the paper pattern. Paper was a scarce commodity in the early American west so women would save letters from home, postcards, newspaper clippings, and catalogs to use as patterns. The paper not only served as a pattern but as an insulator. The paper found between the old quilts has become a primary source of information about pioneer life.

Quilts made without any insulation or batting were referred to as summer quilts. They were not made for warmth, only to keep the chill off during cooler summer evenings.

African-American quilts

There is a long tradition of African-American quilting beginning with quilts made by slaves, both for themselves and for their owners. The style of these quilts was determined largely by time period and region, rather than race, and the documented slave-made quilts generally resemble those made by white women in their region. After 1865 and the end of slavery in the United States, African-Americans began to develop their own 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. The first nationwide recognition of African-American quilt-making came when the Gee's Bend quilting community was celebrated in an exhibition that opened in 2002 and traveled to many museums, including the Smithsonian. Gee's Bend is a small, isolated community of African-Americans in southern Alabama with a quilt-making tradition that goes back several generations and is characterized by pattern improvisation, multiple patterning, bright and contrasting colors, visual motion, and a lack of rules. The contributions made by Harriet Powers and others quilters of Gee's Bend, Alabama have been recognized by the US Postal Service with a series of stamps. The communal nature of the quilting process (and how it can bring together women of varied races and backgrounds) was honored in the series of stamps.

Beginning with the children's story Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (1989) a legend has grown that slaves used quilts as a means to share and transmit secret messages to escape slavery and travel the Underground Railroad. Consensus among historians is that there is no sound basis for this belief, and no documented mention among the thousands of slave narratives or other contemporary records.

Amish quilts

Another American group to develop a distinct style of quilting were the Amish. Typically, these quilts use only solid fabrics, are pieced from geometric shapes, do not contain appliqué, and construction is simple (corners are butted, rather than mitered, for instance) and done entirely by hand. Amish quilters also tend to use simple patterns: Lancaster County Amish are known for their Diamond-in-a-Square and Bars patterns, while other communities use patterns such as Brick, Streak of Lightning, Chinese Coins, and Log Cabins, and midwestern communities are known for their repeating block patterns. Borders and color choice also vary by community. For example, Lancaster quilts feature wide borders with lavish quilting, while Midwestern quilts feature narrower borders to balance the fancier piecing.

Native American quilts

Native Baby and Star Quilt
Native American Baby in cradle board with baby star quilt

Some Native Americans are thought to have learned quilting through observation of white settlers; others learned it from missionaries who taught quilting to Native American women along with other homemaking skills. Native American women quickly developed their own unique style, the Lone Star design (also called the Star of Bethlehem), a variation on Morning Star designs that had been featured on Native American clothing and other items for centuries. These quilts often featured floral appliqué framing the star design. Pictorial quilts, created with appliqué, were also common.

Another distinctive style of Native American quilting is Seminole piecing, created by Seminoles living in the Florida Everglades. The style evolved out a need for cloth (the closest town was often a week's journey away). Women would make strips of sewing the remnants of fabric rolls together, then sew these into larger pieces to make clothing. Eventually the style began to be used not just for clothing but for quilts as well. In 1900, with the introduction of sewing machines and readily available fabric in Seminole communities, the patterns became much more elaborate and the style continues to be in use today, both by Seminole women and by others who have copied and adapted their designs and techniques.

Hawaiian quilting

"Hawaiian quilting was well established by the beginning of the twentieth century. Hawaiian women learned to quilt from the wives of missionaries from New England in the 1820s. Though they learned both pieced work and applique, by the 1870s they had adapted applique techniques to create a uniquely Hawaiian mode of expression. The classic Hawaiian quilt design is a large, bold, curvilinear appliqué pattern that covers much of the surface of the quilt, with the symmetrical design cut from only one piece of fabric."

South Asian quilting

There are two primary forms of quilting that originate in South Asia: Nakshi Kantha and Ralli. Nakshi Kantha quilts originated in India and are typically made of scraps and worn-out fabric stitched together with old sari threads using kantha embroidery stitches. "The layers of cloth were spread on the ground, held in placed with weights at the edges, and sew together with rows of large basting stitches. The cloth was then folded and worked on whenever there was time." The first recorded kantha are more than 500 years old.

Ralli quilts are traditionally made in Pakistan, western India, and the surrounding area. They are made by every sector of society including Hindu and Muslim women, women of different castes, and women from different towns or villages or tribes with the colors and designs varying among these groups. The name comes from ralanna, a word meaning to mix or connect. Quilts tops were designed and pieced by one woman using scraps of hand-dyed cotton. This cotton often comes from old dresses or shawls. Once pieced, the quilt top is placed on a reed mat with the other layers and sewn together using thick, colored thread in straight parallel lines by members of the designer's family and community.

Swedish quilting

Quilting originated in Sweden in the fifteenth century with heavily stitched and appliquéd quilts made for the very wealthy. These quilts, created from silk, wool, and felt, were intended to be both decorative and functional and were found in churches and in the homes of nobility. Imported cotton first appeared in Sweden in 1870, and began to appear in Swedish quilts soon after along with scraps of wool, silk, and linen. As the availability of cotton increased and its price went down, quilting became widespread among all classes of Swedish society. Wealthier quilters used wool batting while others used linen scraps, rags, or paper mixed with animal hair. In general, these quilts were simple and narrow, made by both men and women. The biggest influence on Swedish quilting in this time period is thought to have come from America as Swedish immigrants to the United States returned to their home country when conditions there improved.

Art quilting

During the late 20th century, art quilts became popular for their aesthetic and artistic qualities rather than for functionality as they are displayed on a wall or table rather than being used on a bed.. "It is believed that decorative quilting came to Europe and Asia during the Crusades (A.D. 1100-1300), a likely idea because textile arts were more developed in China and India than in the West."

Modern quilting

In the early 21st century, modern quilting became a more prominent area of quilting. Modern quilting follows a distinct aesthetic style which draws on inspiration from modern style in architecture, art, and design using traditional quilt making techniques. Modern quilts are different from art quilts in that they are made to be used. Modern quilts are also influenced by the Quilters of Gee's Bend, Amish quilts, Nancy Crow, Denyse Schmidt, Gwen Marston, Yoshiko Jinzenji, Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle.

The Modern Quilt Guild has attempted to define modern quilting. The characteristics of a modern quilt may include: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work.

The Modern Quilt Guild, a non-profit corporation, with 14,000 members in more than 200 members guilds in 39 countries, fosters modern quilting via local guilds, workshops, webinars, and Quiltcon - an annual modern quilting conference and convention. The founding Modern Quilt Guild formed in October 2009 in Los Angeles.

QuiltCon features a quilt show with 400+ quilts, quilt vendors, lectures, and quilting workshops and classes. The first QuiltCon was February 21–24, 2013 in Austin, TX. QuiltCon 2020 will be held in Austin, Texas, February 20–23, 2020 and will feature 400 juried modern quilts from quilters around the world.

Quilting in fashion and design

Decorative quilted upholstery
A decorative use of quilting: a stool upholstered with quilted and embroidered fabric from India.

Unusual quilting designs have increasingly become popular as decorative textiles. As industrial sewing technology has become more precise and flexible, quilting using exotic fabrics and embroidery began to appear in home furnishings in the early 21st century.

Quilt blocks

The quilt block is traditionally a sub-unit composed of several pieces of fabric sewn together. The quilt blocks are repeated, or sometimes alternated with plain blocks, to form the overall design of a quilt. Barbara Brackman has documented over 4000 different quilt block patterns from the early 1830s to the 1970s in the Encyclopedia Of Pieced Quilt Patterns. Some of the simpler designs for quilt blocks include the Nine-Patch, Shoo Fly, Churn Dash, and the Prairie Queen.

A Nine Patch is made by sewing five patterned or dark pieces (patches) to four light square pieces in alternating order. These nine sewn squares make one block.

The Shoo Fly varies from the Nine Patch by dividing each of the four corner pieces into a light and dark triangle.

Another variation develops when one square piece is divided into two equal rectangles in the basic Nine Patch design. The Churn Dash block combines the triangles and rectangle to expand the Nine Patch.

The Prairie Queen block combines two large scale triangles in the corner section with the middle section using four squares. The center piece is one full size square. Each of the nine sections does have the same overall measurement and fits together.

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