Throughout history, women and men have used the art of quilting for diverse purposes: to keep warm, to decorate their homes, to express political views or to remember a loved one. Made by hand, and often collaboratively, using scraps of old clothing or odds and ends, the quilt is both personal and communal, aesthetic and practical.
Quilting can be traced back to ancient Egypt and China, where three layers of fabric (a top, a backing and batting for warmth) were stitched together in a garment or as a blanket. Later in the 11th century, during the crusades, quilting was used to hold together the layers of padding under armor. And in the 18th century, it was stylish for Englishwomen to wear quilted petticoats and for men to wear quilted waistcoats.
Quilts were first brought to the American Colonies during the 18th century and became popular in the 19th, featuring distinctly American patchwork and applique designs. Produced for both utility and pleasure, these quilts are an important element of American Folk Art – telling a story of the life or times in which they were created. And even more importantly, the communal nature of creating a quilt, or a “Quilting Bee” became a wonderful activity for women to socialize, sharing gossip and ideas often during the colder months of the year. These quilts were used as wedding gifts, baby gifts, and even coffin covers, and hung on walls or draped over the bed.
A recent exhibit at the Katonah Museum of Art, traced the dramatic evolution of the North American quilt in form, fashion and function, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day. I was delighted that some of the pieces were actually for sale, as quilts are a wonderful example of textile art and can be a great addition to your art collection or as an accent for your bedroom.