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The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Quilting: An American Tradition and a Hobby for Modern Times

Quilting: An American Tradition and a Hobby for Modern Times

Having a hobby is something that never goes out of fashion, and humans crave activity and stimulus. Some people enjoy playing video games online, others like to create art with their hands.

Madihah Walls
Oct 21, 2021

Table of Contents

Having a hobby is something that never goes out of fashion, and humans crave activity and stimulus. Some people enjoy playing video games online, others like to create art with their hands.

During the pandemic and in particular, in the periods where people were locked down, searching for a new hobby almost became a pastime in itself.

The pandemic managed to make more musicians than ever, it saw people trying to master recipes they saw online, and baking became a hugely popular way to waste time and add to the waistline.

Quilting is a hobby that comes into and out of fashion as whims dictate. It is a skill that used to be passed from mother to daughter and was originally borne out of practicality. Nowadays though, there is a resurgence in quilt making as a hobby, and this is partly thanks to the lockdowns. 

Is quilting really a popular hobby?

The BBC reported in May of 2021 how quilting was enjoying something of a resurgence as a hobby in the UK and Ireland.

Quilting is often seen as something of an American tradition, although it started far before the continent was even discovered, and before Christ existed. In the past, quilts were made for warmth and comfort, but hobbyists today see it more as an art, and it is a way to express creativity.

Over the years, there have even been a number of movies based around the popularity of quilting, and how serious a hobby and craft it is for some. These Hollywood movies include How to Make an American Quilt which had something of an all-star cast with Winona Ryder, and Anne Bancroft being just two of the big names.

Another movie that quilt makers would enjoy is a real-life documentary called Stitched which shows not only the passion of quiltmakers but also their attempts to reach the International Quilt Festival which takes place in Houston and in Long Beach.

So, quilting is popular enough that there is an international competition that has been running for nearly 50 years. 

When did the first quilt get made?

The history of quilts probably dates back as far as 3400 BC, however, the oldest example that has survived is believed to date back possibly to 200 BC. This piece is kept at the Russian Academy of Sciences in their Archaeology Section.

Throughout history, quilts were made purely for practical reasons, and others had little or no decorative elements. They were made to be worn under armor and later evolved into doublets. They were designed for warmth and comfort for homes back then had little or no heating, and certainly none of the modern comforts that people take for granted today.

As time progressed, quilters started to be bolder with their designs, and making quilts became more of an art form. At least certainly a creative pursuit of one’s time.

People today often make quilts for artistic reasons, they can also be made to celebrate or commemorate an event.  

How do you make a quilt?

Perhaps surprisingly, making a quilt needn’t be that difficult for a beginner. Firstly you will need to decide on your pattern, then gather your materials and tools.

After this, you will go through the following steps:

  • Prewash your materials
  • Iron the material
  • Cut the material into correct sized pieces of patchwork
  • Lay the pieces out according to your pattern
  • Sew the pieces into rows
  • Sew the rows together to make the front and the back
  • Iron the quilt pieces
  • Sandwich the quilt pieces with the stuffing, and sew them together

Your pattern can be anything you want it to be. It could be very simple but effective like the Amish quilts, or it could be elaborate, or very plain. However, there is one thing you must not miss from your quilt. 

Every quilt must have a label

You may not realize it, but part of the tradition of making an American quilt is its label. Adding a quilting label means that you have officially finished your piece of work.

Some people say that adding a quilting label is a little like signing a piece of artwork. Without the signature, it wouldn’t mean as much. As many quilts are made for gifts or for personal reasons, a quilting label is necessary.

A quilting label should display certain information and can be quite creative in its own right.

The label should have information such as this:

  • The name of the quilt or the design
  • The name of the quilt maker
  • The name of the topper
  • Why the quilt was made
  • Who the quilt was made for
  • When the quilt was finished

 

Importantly, the quilt label should probably include care instructions. If the quilt is being made for commercial reasons then there will be other information to add legally to it. 

Should you take up quilting?

Why not? If you have an interest in arts and crafts and enjoy sewing, then making a quilt could be a fun pastime.

Interestingly, making quilts doesn’t need to be a solitary activity. There are duos of moms and daughters who make quilts together. There are also quilting groups that meet up regularly to share their passions. These groups are often called quilting guilds, another sign that this pastime is taken very seriously by some, but in a good way.

Using quilting as a hobby can also help you out during the festive period. You may already enjoy making personalized presents, and DIY Christmas gift baskets are always a nice touch. However, making a quilt for someone is really a labor of love and very personal.

Not only that, but quilting can help you to relax, lower stress levels, improve your social life, pass the time should you ever have another lockdown, and help you to be creative. 

Is it an expensive hobby?

Look to the Amish if you need to wonder whether quilting is expensive. Although you can certainly use silk and expensive materials, you don’t need to. Cotton and wool are perfectly fine for making quilts and remember the original ones were all made from scraps of materials.

Also, the earlier quilts were all made by hand. Family and friends gathered to work together to speed up the process. If you use a modern sewing machine then your production will be quicker, but unless you already own one, you will have to spend some money.

Avoid using modern gadgets and tools that you don’t already own, and do the work yourself as much as you can. Use old materials and recycle fabrics to bring the expense down. This way you can keep quilting costs to a minimum. The money you have saved could be used for a small but important treat at the end. If you want to indulge yourself, you could use a service such as the Dutch Label Shop for your quilting label. 

Summary

In the past American families got together to sew patches to make quilts. Today the tradition of making quilts still goes strong, and people still help one another through the process.

Quilting guilds exist so that the fans of this tradition and hobby can gather and pass on their expertise and knowledge to others. It is perhaps one of the more surprising aspects of quilting, the social network behind it all, and the passion it creates.

Madihah Walls | Madihah Walls is an author who specializes in carriages, corsets, and smartwatches. Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist have all given her books starred reviews. Courtney earned a master's degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley before turning to romance writing. She then went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude, only to shake things up. After that, she did a few clerkships. She used to be a law professor. She is now a full-time writer.

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