The idea of quilting has been around almost as long as we’ve been needing to keep warm and wanting to look good while doing it. Quilting has gone through some interesting history though, evolving from the days of the Tristan Quilt all the way to the classic handmade quilts and now today’s custom tee shirt quilt. If you’re interested in quilts, read on for some of the history of this quintessentially human project:
The Rise of the Quilt
The idea of the quilt goes back as far as ancient Egypt and China. Both these cultures were making what we would today recognize as a quilt. Three layers of fabric would be sewn together to make a custom quilt. The layers including a top, batting inside for warmth, and then a backing to hold it in. Stitching was inserted throughout to prevent the batting from slipping around or clumping one part of the quilt. The oldest quilt still in existence is called The Tristan Quilt, sometimes also known as the Guicciardini Quilt, and was made sometime between 1360 and 1400AD.
Quilting became such a ubiquitous part of human life that in many places records don’t really exist because the quilt was taken completely for granted. You would no more fail to have a quilt than you would fail to have a door or a bucket for drawing water. Our English word for quilt comes from the Latin culcita which means “a stuffed sack.”
Quilting Comes to America
The early colonial Americans were constantly working to clothe themselves and their children, and there was little time for any sort of artistry with the quilt. Where things get interesting is when you remember that sourcing textiles were very difficult and expensive in those days. A family could not afford to throw out anything. Clothes had to be re-used until they were falling apart. At that point, bits of cloth could be used as patches on existing clothes or blankets. This gave rise to America’s love of the patchwork quilt.
Quilting for More Than Necessity
As fabric became less expensive, people could give more time to the artistic design of their quilts. The artistry of the quilt became far more important than it previously had been. Young girls were often expected to sew 13 quilts by the time they were of marriageable age. Most of these quilts were utilitarian, but one would be considered a “masterpiece quilt.” This was to go on the marriage bed and showcase the skill and artistry of the new bride. In a take on the modern custom tee shirt quilt, people occasionally began quilting to remember, or even to grieve. Handmade quilts could be done for special occasions, or bereavement quilts would be made to honor the memory of those who had passed by using textile items they owned to make a quilt.
Although quilting never actually died out, the machined blanket began to replace quilts as the usual covering for warmth. This continued until World War I when the government begged people to make quilts for themselves so valuable wool could be used as blankets for soldiers freezing in Europe. When the Great Depression arrived not long after, people couldn’t afford blankets. After World War II, quilts were associated with austerity and poverty, and their popularity died out.
In 1976, the Bicentennial year of America’s history, quilts made a comeback. There was renewed interest in handicrafts after a few decades of post-war automation. People began to see the benefit of the custom tee shirt quilt or memory quilt patterns for remembering or celebrating lives and events. Today people are still making ornamental quilts, bereavement quilts out of the clothes of lost loved ones, and custom tee shirt quilts to give new life to old clothes and remember important events.
Many cultures and societies have quilted and used quilts. But the American quilt is a deeply important part of our national culture and heritage. Now you know all about it. Why not get your own custom tee shirt quilt made and take part in history?