A happy and glorious Independence Day to all!
It hardly seems possible: 39 years have passed since America’s bicentennial celebration. At that time colonial home skills like quilting, candle and soap making came back into vogue. Here in Fort Wayne the first Johnny Appleseed Festival was held in 1974 showcasing the arts, crafts, games and food of the era and Historic Fort Wayne opened giving visitors a taste of the daily life of the people who called it home.
The quilts of 1750-1800 are quite different than the ones you typically see today. The sewing machine had not been invented (1846) and Eli Whitney’s cotton gin although patented in 1794, seeds were still being separated from the cotton by hand.
The quilts of the period were generally not artistic. Colonial women had their hands full weaving fabric to make clothes. Blankets and coverlets were commercially made. Commercially made fabric was imported and during embargoes or other economic misfortune patching and combining blankets or using them as “batting” was the norm to ensure the family kept warm.
Not surprising many of these early quilts did not survive.
To view photos of quilts that did survive go to www.quiltstudy.org/collections/search.html Click “search the collection” and on the form type in 1750-1800 under “Date Range” and hit “search” here you will find 67 quilts from the International Quilt Study Center & Museum collection. Some of them are whole cloth that can be a misnomer for what appears to be one big cloth may very well be made up of large pieces sewn together to bed size. Notice the popularity of hexagons. They were used for centuries not just in 20th century flower garden quilts. The age of many of the quilts is uncertain and a date range is given. Medallion quilts were also very popular during this time period. Quilt number one, the tree of life (1780-1800) is a medallion quilt made by taking chintz fabric, cutting out the floral fabric motifs and hand appliquéing them to the whole cloth fabric. This quilt maker had the means to be able to afford such an extravagant use of fabric and it was carefully used: a good reason why it survives to this day.
So as we celebrate this Independence Day, let us raise our needles in salute to our foremothers who used their needles as both makers and menders of quilts out of necessity for their families!
Lois Levihn is the owner of Born Again Quilts, 4005 South Wayne Ave where quilts are bought, sold and restored. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 260-515-9446.