Whether good or bad, my personality type is one of “sharing". It may seem like a curse to those who know me best, but whenever I have an experience that positively shapes my life, I have this overwhelming desire to share it with the world. Nevertheless, I have found that possessing this “gift” of sharing requires a measure of caution. For example, just because I learn some new automotive skill, like changing the oil in my car, doesn’t suddenly make me an expert mechanic (now there's a scary thought).
Becoming an expert takes hours and hours of education and practice. The fact is, that while I’ve logged hundreds of hours sewing and making quilts, I don’t consider myself a qualified quilt historian. However, in my pursuit to share facts about quilt history, I’ve spent time researching and compiling what other authorities in the field of quilt history have had to say on the subject, and I’m happy to share a few fascinating facts with you. Enjoy!
Scraps of Quilt History, Part One - Where Did Quilts Come From Anyway?
Have you ever wondered about the history of quilts in our country? Perhaps you have wondered how our ancestors utilized quilts in daily life. Were these quilts for practical purposes or merely to please the eyes, or both?
If you are like me, you may be absorbed in the beautiful and enchanting world of quilts, but may not necessarily be a quilt historian. Usually, when we become genuinely interested in something, we desire to know more about the story of that particular thing…which is what happened to me when I fell in love with the art of quilting.
The first question that begs to be asked is: where did the art of quilting begin? Interestingly, the word quilt originates from the Latin word culcita which means "a stuffed sack"; however, the term developed into the English language from the French word cuilte. While no one knows exactly where the first quilts as we know them originated from, historians are confident that the practice of using quilted items for clothing and functional items were used in various parts of the world dating back to early civilizations. Quilted clothing has been traced back as far as the First Egyptian Dynasty. A quilted floor covering, which possibly dates back to the second century A.D., was unearthed in 1924 by archaeologists in Mongolia.
In the Middle Ages, knights wore quilted garments underneath their armor for protection and comfort. One could easily imagine how uncomfortable a heavy metal suit would feel in battle if there were no padding to soften the blows from enemy weapons. The quilted padding could also have served as an insulator against cold weather or blistering sun.
Even though quilted items functioned as clothing in Europe from the fifth century, it wasn't until after the Crusades in the Middle East that quilts as bed covers began to appear around the twelfth century in European countries.
Interestingly, the Tristan quilt is the oldest known surviving European bed quilt. It is a "story" quilt that depicts scenes from the legend of Tristan. The quilt measures 122" x 106" and is constructed from linen and padded with wool. This amazing quilt, pictured below, is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
When European settlers came to the new world, their cultural lifestyle, food, religion, clothing, handcrafts, and artistic abilities came along too. Even though it is not for certain that quilts were brought to the new world with those first settlers, it is safe to assume that the knowledge of the art of quilting came with them as there are many references to quilts dating back to American Colonial times. As they say, "the rest is history"!
Sources -Emporia State University, Wikipedia
I hope you've enjoyed this fun and informative post about the history of quilting. In my next Scraps of Quilt History post, we'll dive into the history of quilting in the United States. Believe me; it will be just the tip of the iceberg!
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