They are for graduation. The birth of a child. Marriage. Even a family member leaving home. And while throughout most of history they were used for bedding to keep warm, today’s can be seen as art. There are even exhibitions.
Quilting dates back to 3400 BC, to the times of the Egyptian dynasties. In fact, quilting can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and also Ancient China. Both traditions used three layers (the top, the batting (for warmth), and backing) were stitched together to keep the middle layer from slipping and clumping.
Quilting, as a process, still involves those basic principles. There is a woven cloth “top,” a layer of batting or wadding, and then a woven “back”; quilters, then, sew all three parts together.
Today, 21 million people quilt in the United States. At the time of the study, which was 2014, the quilting industry in the United States was a $3.7 billion industry. In fact, 14% of U.S. households are home to at least one active quilter.
Quilts today are often used as gifts to commemorate occasions. There are bereavement quilts, for instance, as well as the custom memory quilt. Many in the United States today design handmade quilts, which is more detailed and differs from the process of factory made quilts.
But while quilts today are used as gifts and not always as bedding (which will be covered later), quilts were initially used for keeping someone warm. In fact, the American quilting tradition is especially strong because early settlers in America needed to keep warm throughout the northeastern winter spells.
Those settlers would use textiles and design quilts by hand. The settlers encountered the problem of not having enough fabric. Importing fabric was expensive, while making local textiles was time-consuming. Families would save scrap pieces of fabric that would later be sewn together, creating the “community quilt.”
Quilting has often been a communal activity, with girls and women coming together to design and sew quilts. Often, the actual knitting was completed by multiple people and for many different occasions. Wedding and the birth of a baby were two occasions where quilts were more often sewn.
And while that is monolith picture of quilting traditions, it is important to note that many different cultures had their own traditions and styles and designs. They include:
- The Amish: They traditionally use solid color on a white background. While quilting used to be solely community activity, today there are Amish quilt factories.
- Baltimore quilts: Using motifs and a highly detailed design to create memorable on typically white or off-white background to enhance the designs.
- African American quilts: Taken from textile traditions in Central and West Africa, along with various other peoples and traditions in Africa.
Today, quilt makers may use different types of fabric than cloth to apply to a “top” of the quilt. There are t-shirt quilt makers, for instance, who specialize in the custom t-shirt quilt. A custom quilt is also a great way to give a gift to someone who has had a special moment in their life
A custom quilt may not even be used for bedding; often they are works of art and can be hung up on walls to show off the artistry. A custom quilt can also be useful to capture the moment and personality of the individual.