What is the history of Antique Quilts in America

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Answered by: Sanrdra, An Expert in the Quilting Patterns Category
There is a long and very interesting history of antique quilts in America dating back to colonial times. Those early quilts tended to be whole cloth quilts made with one cloth or very simple pieced designs. Unfortunately very few quilts survive from that era. Quilting was expensive as almost all the materials had to be imported from England and taxes were added along with the transportation costs. These high taxes were one of the complaints that led to the revolution. The American fight was not just about tea taxes, it was about fabric (a cause for which quilters are still willing to fight).

In the early 1800's, fabric was still being imported and expensive and quilting was done almost exclusively by wealthy women or their staff. Quilt making began to expand to include basic block designs like the 4 patch and 9 patch and quilts sewn with long plain strips which were perfect to showcase that expensive imported fabric. Most quilts made at this time had simple quilting as the focus was on fabrics. Large pieced Bethlehem stars were another popular design.

As the century progressed, the block patterns continued to develop and many of the standard quilt patterns were created around the mid century. This was also the heyday of red and green quilts and applique quilts especially those made with floral motifs. Mid century was also a time of fancy quilting on presentation quilts. 1840 to 1870 was a period of westward migration and the mobile society may have led to signature quilts being used to document family relationships. Signature antique quilts in America at that time tended to be made of simple blocks due to time issues and so that friends with only basic sewing skills could contribute.

At the end of the 1800's the majority of the traditional pieced block designs had been created and were beginning to be distributed by women's magazines. This period saw American textile mills producing massive amounts of cotton fabrics in a wide variety of colors and designs. Many quilters made charm quilts using hundreds of different pieces of fabrics with no repeats allowed. The most distinctive quilt style of this era is the fancy crazy quilt usually made of many dark silks and satin fabrics along with ribbons and lace and decorated with fancy stitches.

The early 1900's saw a lot of simple pieced block quilts and the rise of more quilt patterns in magazines. Women began creating quilt businesses from their homes and selling patterns and full kits with everything needed to create a particular design. Due to these standardized patterns and kits, designs of the era tend to have a "cookie cutter" feel without the spontaneity of earlier quilt makers. During the Depression and afterwards, quilters chose happy, pastel colors to clear away the gloom. Around World War II, quilt making dropped off as more women entered the work force and store bought comforters seemed modern while quilts seemed old fashioned.

The American Bicentennial created great interest in history generally and a back to basics movement which included the history of antique quilts. This renewed interest in quilts has continued to the present day. There is a vibrant and diverse quilt making community in the United States with quilters sewing by hand, by simple machine or with fancy machines that cost more than an average car. Quilters are making quilts using traditional patterns, modern patterns or improvising and making up the designs as they sew.

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