Many of the quilts of yesterday took a lifetime to make. Perhaps the mystical part of quilts—the aspect that makes them almost human—is the countless hours of work and devotion it took to create a masterpiece of the heart.
Beyond their beauty and usefulness, quilts possess a magic that will never die, for all of life's hopes and fears, loves and hates have been sewn into them. Long ago, a woman whose quilt took her nearly 25 years to finish, remarked, "I tremble sometimes when I remember what that quilt knows about me."
|Log cabin quilt|
Little is known of the women who stitched the quilts of old; most remain anonymous. The exact origin of quilts is also somewhat sketchy. The name derives from Latin meaning "stuffed sack," which was translated into Middle English asquilte, meaning "wrap around the body," providing both padding and blanket. A partial unraveling of quilt history reveals that the oldest example of patchwork, a canopy for an Egyptian queen, dates back to 960 B.C.
Generally speaking, a quilt consists of three layers: the top, the filling, and the back. Wool, silk, or cotton were common fabrics for the top layer and muslin for the backing.
In the earliest quilts, grass and leaves or feathers were used for the filling. After the top had been meticulously pieced together, the three layers were assembled and laid over a quilting frame supported by legs, sawhorses, or chair backs. In the South, the quilting frame was often suspended from the ceiling. The layers were then joined together by quilting, the running of stitches through the three layers of material.
The technique of quilting was used throughout the ancient Near East. When the Crusaders ventured to Eastern lands, they brought back the arts of needlework to Western Europe. The West began importing rich silks, satins, brocades, and lace from the East, and women in all walks of life, from queens to peasants, joined the excitement of quiltmaking that lasted through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Quilts were coveted and cherished, and often were recorded in ledger books.