How Long Have We Been Quilting?

Last night, my husband asked me how long quilting has been around. I knew that it arrived in America when the European settlers did. So it must be at least a few centuries old. Not knowing the exact answer, I started to research. (The internet makes it so easy to get started, but I prefer good old-fashioned books to confirm things.)

The initial research showed that I was off by at least a factor of ten. According to Wikipedia (not my favorite site for information), an Egyptian statue depicting a Pharaoh wearing a quilted garment dated to 3400 BC. Historical remains of a quilted floor covering were discovered in Mongolia that were about 2000 years old. These two data points tell me that quilting definitely was used by the wealthy, who could afford the fabric and filling. Even in those days, cotton and wool (or other animal hair/fur) were used as as batting, wadding, or whatever you call it.

Given my son is a history buff, he chimed into this conversation. He explained that in medieval times, quilted garments were worn as part of armor to protect warriors in battle. With a little more research, we found that quilted garments for protection existing in South American, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. So was it developed independently or did one culture give quilting to another?

Of course, quilted bed coverings were used in colder climates. But they also were found in the warmer cultures, where they were status symbols.

Started with simple whole cloth designs, but soon after more intricate patterns of quilting, applique methods, and patchwork followed. Many of the techniques we use today are rooted in these historical methods.

One of the best articles I found about the history of quilting was written by Lady Sara Davies. She provides a wonderfully detailed historical perspective of quilts that extends beyond the American Patchwork quilting with which we are so familiar. I strongly encourage you to read her article on Quilt History. The Quilt History website also has excellent articles on the history of specific types of quilts, how to determine how old a quilt is, and how to care for historical quilts.

If you are interested in textile history or even textiles from other cultures, I would also recommend PieceWork magazine. It has wonderful articles to expand your understand of textiles and may even give you some new ideas for your own projects.

I love finding resources like these that can answer those jeopardy worthy questions.

Happy Quilting!

Laureen

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