Friday, 14 June 2013


Quilting can be defined as the process of stitching three layers of cloth together - modern day quilters call it a quilt sandwich consisting of a top layer of cloth, usually cotton, a layer of wadding or batting, usually wool or cotton and a bottom layer of cloth.  All three layers are stitched through, so they are held together firmly with the rows of stitching close enough to stop the filling moving inside. The three layers are stronger and warmer than single layers of clothing.

The skill of weaving is older even than spinning, as weaving began with grasses and leaves. When people began to produce cloth they opened the way for all the other textile related skills.  Samples of quilting have been found in ruins of ancient Egypt and in ancient China.  Quilted fabrics of cotton, flax, wool and silk, were used to make tents and floor covers as well as clothing like jackets, pants, headwear, undergarments and padding to wear underneath armour.
There were no factories to produce fabric before the 19th century so fabrics woven on looms in homes. This made fabric valuable and scraps from sewing, as well as usable sections of worn out clothing, were kept to be recycled as other clothing and bed covers. This patch work was combined with quilting to make warmer coverings.

Quilted jacket

During the middle ages in Britain heavy cloth, quilted with strong thread stitched in straight lines was worn as body armour by the army of William the Conqueror and the Crusaders. Through the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, quilted bed covers were mentioned in household inventories and accounts.

Whole cloth quilt

In the 14th century the climate of Western Europe changed and they experienced bitter winters.  People used whatever they could find to fill their quilts from lamb's wool to grass, moss or feathers.  In Britain and Holland making bed covers, or 'bed furniture' became a business for many people. The quilted bed covers became prized possessions that were handed down through generations and other traditions developed around the craft. Before a girl married she was expected to have a number of quilts completed and the last one was often quilted by her relatives and friends. This quilt would become a part of her dowry. It was popular to hold quilting bees, where friends gathered to share the work, sitting around homemade quilting frames and enjoying the social occasion while sharing patterns and skills

Quilting bee

In Europe quilted bed covers and wall hangings were in use before the 16th century.  These quilts were whole cloth quilts, just one colour fabric all over with a design created by quilting. Patterns for the quilting stitches to follow ranged from very simple to very complicated and women with fine quilting skills were sought out to work for wealthy people. The sewing machine was invented around 1790 and this made piecing a quilt top easier and faster but the quilting was still done by hand.

Today quilting is used in a wide range of items such as ski jackets and other cold weather clothing, dressing gowns, slippers, seat covers, tote bags, baby cot liners and change mats, bedding such as pillow covers and mattresses as well as decorative bed quilts.  Commercial quilting is done on huge machines in factories and is not what ladies who love handcrafts mean when they refer to quilting.

Section of a winning quilt from the Australian National Quilt Show

If you asked women in America about quilts they would say that quilting was an American invention.  Possibly they don't realise that quilting was a skill used by the Pilgrims, who were told to take at least one piece of bed furniture with them. IN the early 19th century patchwork and quilting came to Australia with the convicts, who practiced their stitching skills aboard ship.
A great example of quilting skills moving from Europe to America is the Amish.  Their quilts are known around the world and Amish quilting patterns and quilts are even sold on the internet.  As part of their life style, being 'plain' people, the Amish wear homemade clothing of plain colours. Their quilts are made from clothing scraps, and while their geometric patchwork designs are greatly admired, it's in the quilting that they become art works.

Amish Quilt

Across the world the skills of patchwork and quilting were in use up until World War l broke out in 1914.  With the men away women found they didn't have the time for sewing and after the war improvements in shipping meant that readymade items were available at reasonable cost. As people became more prosperous they gave their time to other things. The handcraft skills began to fade until the 1960's when the 'back to the basics lifestyle' became popular.

By the early 20th century quilters all around the world were able to use their sewing machines for simple quilting. Today sewing machines are computerised and some are capable of producing very fancy quilting patterns.  Special quilting machines are also available for home use and installed in garages, sheds and spare rooms all over the world.

What began as an activity to protect and warm the family is now a hobby and big business for millions of women and men around the world involved in specialist shops, books, websites and clubs. Conventions, competitions, classes and exhibitions are held. We still stitch for our families and for charity, and patched, embroidered and quilted works are exhibited in art galleries. 

---------------- QUILTERS will understand this ----------------

I've been put on this earth to sew
and finish a certain number of 
I am so far behind now…
I will never die! 

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