Wednesday, July 13, 2011
In Ye Olden Days: Early American Quilts
In Colonial times, quilts were more utilitarian than decorative for the common family. The wealthy were able to obtain elaborate fabrics and the colonial lady could stitch beautiful bedcovers, whereas the lower classes made quilts from the scrap-bag.
The earliest Colonial quilts were made of Indian chintz and palampores. Colonial era chintz was an expensive fabric and threatened the mills of France and England as the upper classes were buying this gorgeous fabric over the plainer linens and cottons of Europe. Thus chintz was banned by Parliament in 1720. However the ban was lifted in 1759 once the mills had acquired the necessary skills to make chintz, ending much of the import from India.
One pattern still popular today is toil de jouy, which originated in France and was a popular design in Colonial America. Most likely you have seen it as wallpaper and fabric. A relative of mine once papered her bedroom in blue toil and it was beautiful. I find it 'a joy' that toil de jouy is still popular after more than 200 years.
Palampores were cotton or linen panels that were hand-painted or dyed. Only the wealthiest of Americans could afford this fabric and you would find it in plantation and estate houses throughout the Thirteen. The designs were colorful and elaborate, made up of ivy, flowers, horses and peacocks. Each design was one of a kind. One thing of interest is how the quilts were made at the end to slip between the bedposts.
Some Colonial quilts were made of whole cloth. Fine stitches were made in ivy and floral patterns.
In time, the Colonial housewife used quilts that were utilitarian, to keep her family warm and comforted. Slave women made quilts from scraps and you can find some in museums that tell a story of family and culture. Block designs have been handed down through the generations.
Here is a quilt I made in between writing historical novels. I've made several, but this is one of my favorites. I change the wall hangings in my foyer with the seasons. I have a leaf quilt for autumn, a snowman quilt for Christmas, and this floral basket quilt for spring and summer.
In closing, if you were living in Colonial times, what kind of quilt would you have made? Would it have been practical, or decorative?