Category Archives: Quilt History & Politics

History of Quilting in America – Crazy Quilts, 1890 – 1920

Crazy Quilts, 1890-1920

The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and interest in Japanese art sparked the Crazy Quilt.  It was fashionable for genteel upper-class ladies to use needlework as a proper use of leisure time. They had servants to do the mundane work. In the rapid changes in the world, like industrialization, the women wanted to make something beautiful.

Crazy Quilts had geometric shaped fabrics in an abstract arrangement. The quilts were used mostly as a decorative pieces, made with expensive fabrics, velvet, silk, brocade, and satin. They were embellished with buttons, lace, ribbons and decorative embroidery stitches on each seam.


For our show, we had two examples of crazy quilting: a Christmas stocking from Rita Alesi and framed piece of an antique crazy quilt from Bethany Viens.  Crazy quilting is something that I have tried a few times myself, one of which was perhaps my first “crazy mom” moment.  I stayed up until 11:30  on Christmas Eve of my daughter’s first Christmas finishing her stocking. She was 7 months old so I don’t think that it made any difference to her if she had a stocking, but I COULD NOT REST until her stocking was hung.


I also made a crazy quilted wall hanging for my mother and my sister for Christmas one year. (I started one for myself, which is still in the UFO drawer.) I called it “Crazy Family.” I made that one before I learned the value of a good stabilizer.

Crazy Fam 2

History of Quilting in America – Westward Expansion, 1840s – 1860s

Westward Expansion, 1840s – 1860s

In the mid-1800s, Americans turned their eyes west. The first wagon trains left Missouri for the territories in 1843, and hundreds of thousands of settlers followed over the next few decades, bringing their quilts with them.  Family and friends of settlers sent their loved ones with mementos of home in the form of signature and friendship quilts. Then, once the wagon stopped moving, settlers began making quilts of their own, some from the clothes they had worn and worn out during their trips. Common patterns include Friendship Star, Road to California, Wandering Foot and others that reflect this era of leaving friends behind and moving west.

Grandmothers Signature Quilt, 2007.

Grandmothers Signature Quilt, 2007.

Farewell, NJ, 2011

Farewell, NJ, 2011. Friends of mine in the Garden State Quilters in NJ made this for me when we moved back to Mass.

History of Quilting in America – Rise of American Patchwork, 1825 – 1860

This is the second installment from the History of American Quilting special exhibit at the Rising Star Quilters 2015 show.  The sample quilts included here were not in the exhibit, but are quilts that I have made in recent years.

Rise of American Patchwork, 1825 – 1860

By 1825, conditions were ripe in the United States for the development of a distinctly American style of patchwork.  The Lowell mills opened in 1823, and were amply supplied by cotton grown in the U.S. south, largely through slave labor. American quilters now had access to a wider variety and quantity of domestically-produced fabrics. With industrialization and an improved economy, many urban women also had more time to devote to quilting. The whole-cloth and mosaic style quilts of the previous era gave way to pieced blocks (4 Patch, 9 Patch, LeMoyne and Ohio Stars, Log Cabin) and whole-top pieced patchwork, like the Star of Bethlehem pattern. American patchwork was born.

Log Cabin, 2009

Log Cabin, 2009

Ohio Star, 2008

Ohio Star, 2008




History of Quilting in America – The Colonial Period and the Early 1800s

From the special exhibit at the Rising Star Quilt Guild quilt show, October 2-3, 2015.

The Colonial Period and the Early 1800’s

As English settlers crossed the ocean to the American colonies, they brought their quilts and their quilting traditions with them. Whole cloth and mosaic-style paper pieced quilts were the most common styles among the first generations of quilters in America.

King Arthur's Crown template from The Stencil Co.

Hand Quilted Whole Cloth Quilt Sample (or, as my daughter called it “the quilt with nothing on it”)- King Arthur’s Crown template from The Stencil Co.

In the early 1800’s in America, paper was hard to come by, so pioneer women used letters, catalogue pages, sheet music, and newsprint as templates for their quilts. Sometimes they left the paper templates in the quilt as added insulation and giving us a glimpse into their lives. The template was used to stabilize pieces of fabric that were hand stitched together. To make a paper pieced quilt, the template was placed on the back of the fabric, fabric edges folded over the template, and basted in place from the back.  The patches were then sewn together giving the blocks sharp points and perfectly matched intersections.

Mosaic Sample, hand pieced and hand quilted

Mosaic Sample, hand pieced and hand quilted

Quilt Show

Quilters are such nice people.  I can’t even tell you how many people stopped me at the show over the weekend and told me how much they liked my “Authentic Self” quilt.  It was a quilt that I made just for myself with no thoughts about winning any ribbons and having people go out of their way to say positive things about the quilt was so much more meaningful to me than any ribbon could have been.

I also want to thank the people who came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the special exhibit that I put together with several of my guild colleagues.  The exhibit was entitled “History of Quilting in America” and it described the state of quilting during several historical periods from the colonial era to the modern age with quilt samples from each period.   In case you missed the show, I’ll post some of it here over the next few weeks.