Telling A Story Through Quilting: Then and Now


Everyone has a story. Even if you are not a storyteller, public speaker, or author, don’t be discouraged. Stories can be told in other beautiful and unique ways such as a handcrafted quilt. Most quilts have a story and these types of stories are becoming more popular throughout the world.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a quilt is a warm bed covering made of padding enclosed between layers of fabric and kept in place by lines of stitching. As a verb, to quilt means to join together with lines of stitching to form a bed covering.

What the definition doesn’t cover is that quilting is a craft dating back to the early and mid 1800’s. It is an important part of our heritage as Americans. Seen in most homes, shopping malls, catalogs, nursing homes, hospitals, and homeless shelters, a quilt not only keeps an individual warm, but it tells a story – maybe their own, or maybe their parents’ or grandparents’ story. The types of fabric, design, and mark of the quilter most likely reveals an intimate tale of the maker.

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Simple patterns were more popular in the early years, and most were simply stitched together and cut by using a keen eye. Most patterns were made of cardboard, placed on a piece of fabric and cut by hand. There were no rotary cutters, rotary mats, and other devices that are used by the modern day quilters. Our grandmothers did most of the quilting by hand, and a common fabric type was cotton with flannel batting with a calico print. Instead of machine quilting, quilts were hand stitched or tied. Batting often times consisted of cotton scraps, wool, worn blankets or quilts, lint from dryers, or silk batting. Pieced quilts were sections of fabric that were cut into shapes and sewn back together to form a design.

Although the craft of quilting has not been lost, the techniques have changed since grandma quilted. Quilts today are used to display and to brighten up a room, comfort a baby, or exhibited at shows around the world. Grandma’s old patterns are often times altered a bit to add character or design to the quilt or to coordinate with the story of the maker. Friendship quilts were extremely popular in the United States from the mid to late 1870’s and were used to capture stories of friendships. These quilts typically included individual patchwork squares with handwritten poems or sayings signed by the maker.

Whatever the case or situation, everyone has a story. Some may keep their story to themselves while others may choose to share their stories through the works of a needle and thread. Perhaps there are squares of the quilt that are bright and lively to represent a specific event or celebration, but may be entwined with darker squares and black thread to show the times of darkness or despair in their lives. All colors joined together paint a beautiful picture enticing to the eye and personal to the maker.

No matter whether your life has been a roller coaster, or smooth sailing, take some time to compose and tell your story through a beautiful quilt – using a method similar to grandma’s quilting. After all, you may be surprised at your hidden talent and the interest others have in your story.

The Author:

A Quilt for a Lifetime in Rochester MN creates custom t-shirt quilts for all occasions including graduations, memorials and many other special occasions.

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