A Brief and Incomplete History of Quilting

Fabric stored and organized for the purpose of quilting.

Quilting has a long and storied history stretching back as far as ancient Egypt, piecing together a timeline of humanity from which we draw our crafting skills. While the quilting we know and love today is worlds different from the functional quilting of our past, it still holds a unique place in our hearts and in our history. For generations we’ve warmed ourselves and our families beneath quilts. They’ve been there to protect us, remind us of our past, and comfort us in difficult times.

While it’s not possible to capture the complete history of quilting in one attempt (and we’re by no means experts on the subject!), this guide can serve as a very broad overview of our craft—a guide to remind you that with every stitch you create, you create a stitch within the fabric of time. Many cultures in our world have used quilting as a means to document their history, survive harsh environments, and bring comfort during times of strife. For generations, careful hands have passed down their gifts until they have finally reached us and it is now in our hands to continue the quilting journey. Looking back on our past may be important, but it’s the quilters of today that will keep our craft alive.

Early Beginnings

Pictorial Quilt, 1795. Linen, multicolored thread, 103 1/4 x 91 in. (262.3 x 231.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 41.285

Quilting can be traced back to many ancient civilizations within China, North Africa, and the Middle East. An ivory carving depicting the Pharaoh of the Egyptian First Dynasty wearing a quilted mantle, now housed in the British Museum, is recognized as the first known evidence of quilting. During these time periods, the concept of quilting wasn’t all that different than how we see it today. Many original quilted goods were created out of necessity. Many layers “sandwiched” together created a warmer, thicker product that was handy in many different uses. Clothing to both warm and protect the wearer (even to pad the armor of knights!) and bedding was made by quilting different layers of fabric together.

Medieval Europe offers some of the clearest glimpses into the early history of quilting. As with many creative processes, quilting was utilized as a method of storytelling as well as a functional necessity. As cinema has given us the opportunity to visualize a story, early quilts allowed the creator to embellish and decorate with stories from both written and oral traditions. Two of the earliest known decorative quilts are from the 14th century and both capture the legend of Tristan and Isolde. Quilts throughout history have been used and created as both functional vessels of warmth and beautiful works of art.

Quilting Comes to America

The Stars and Stripes quilt from the Missouri Star Quilt Company.

Practicality was key for early American settlers. In a new environment, isolated from the known world, quilts found their purpose in the form of warmth. Most of the early American quilts were not focused on aesthetics, but rather were created from the limited resources available. They used whatever materials they had on hand, recycling outgrown and damaged clothing (and at times, even other, older quilts!) into new quilts. These quilts were purely for functionality and keeping warm.

If protection from the elements wasn’t beneficial enough, quilting developed another function in early colonial America—social interaction. As we all know, quilting is no easy task. The laborious process is well-loved by many, but before modern revolutions such as pre-cut materials and sewing machines, quilts had to be made entirely by hand.

Pictorial Quilt, ca. 1840. Cotton, cotton thread, 85 1/2 x 67 3/4 in. (217.2 x 172.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Franklin Chace, Gavin Ashworth photograph

The quilting bee, a social gathering where women came together to socialize and quilt, was a way for many early settlers in America to not only continue working on their projects, but  interact with their community and have fun while sewing during the long process! For many, quilting was a relaxing activity and something to look forward to, especially when able to gather with their fellow quilters. These social gatherings, along with sewing at home, allowed the opportunity for quilting to be passed on as a generational skill. Mothers would teach daughters the basic stitches and then in turn, would pass those skills on to their children, creating a lifetime of heirloom quilts with nostalgic memories layered within the fabric. Quilting became a popular activity for major life events in which entire quilts were completed within a day due to limited time with neighbors whom early settlers might have only seen a few times a year. The Victoria and Albert museum states, “particularly in north America … there is a tradition of a quilt-making ‘bee’ for a girl about to get married, with the aim of stitching a whole quilt in one day”.

These gatherings and the first boom in quilt popularity gave birth to many of the vintage blocks that we still use and gain inspiration from today. Early American crafters, much like the earliest quilters, told stories with their projects by sewing the world around them. The pinwheel block utilizes motion, demonstrating the prairie winds of which they traveled. Star blocks captured the night sky and the importance of light in a vast, unexplored wilderness. These blocks have been passed down for centuries until they became the staples of quilting that we know and love today.

Modern Quilting

The Sunset Cabin quilt from ModBLOCK Volume 5.

Today, quilting is more accessible than it ever has been. We live in a world of pre-cut fabrics available at the press of a button and instructional videos that can be watched online from the convenience of our homes. Quilting isn’t entirely a necessity as it once was, we can instead use it as a creative outlet and pastime.

The world of quilting continues to change as the world we live in evolves. Modern quilting utilizing bold color designs and prints, once an impossibility due to limited technology and supplies, has brightened the artform in unimaginable ways. Geometric and fractal quilting are growing in popularity as a new generation of quilters piece their first works, many of which have learned their craft online rather than through the traditional in-person learning process. As the world changes, so does quilting. Regardless of what the quilts of tomorrow look like, we can remember where they came from and keep their memory alive within our patchwork. So pick up an old pattern today and try something new— replace the background with a bold, modern color or add some abstract designs into your block but remember that with every stitch, you’re continuing the timeline of quilt history.

Misty’s Into the Woods Kit – Make this Beautiful Quilt with Missouri Star

Meet Misty Doan

Misty Doan is many things. She’s a mom, wife, city councilwoman, model, quilter, Missouri Star LIVE host, and now… a designer!

Misty recently created this quilt pattern, Into the Woods! Check it out HERE!

Get to know Misty and all about her inspiration behind her latest creation and her favorite holiday traditions!

Where do you look for inspiration in your work?

Inspiration strikes in all different ways for me. But, everything I make or design is usually with a specific person or purpose in mind. So I think a lot about that- Who is it for? What do they love? What would make this quilt meaningful to them? What would make this project stand out? I like to challenge myself during the design process by asking lots of questions and that helps guide me to the final result.

What are your must have tools for working on quick kit projects?

Before I sit down to start on any quilt project, I always make sure I have my diagonal seam tape on my machine, a seam guide handy, and a few bobbins wound and ready to go. I do all my cutting first, label my pieces with trusty post-it notes, and then I can just sit and sew, sew, sew!

What tips do you have for new quilters?

Finished really is better than perfect. Take your time, enjoy the process, and remember- it’s only fabric and thread. Jenny always says, “Sewing is a learned skill. Sew an hour today and tomorrow you’re an hour better!”

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

There are almost too many to name. We try to make every holiday special at our house, but Christmas is especially magical. We always decorate the day after Thanksgiving- singing along to our favorite Christmas music and decking the halls together. The kids also make handmade gifts for each other every year that they exchange on Christmas Eve, so Jake and I love helping them with that. (It’s always a trick to keep their plans a secret from the others.) 

Which projects do you work on specifically for Christmastime? 

I always try to make handmade gifts for a few special people each year. What I make is different each year, depending on who it’s for, but there’s something truly special about making time to make something with someone special in mind.

What inspired Into the Woods? Why did you choose those three blocks?

My boys have been spending a lot of time playing in the woods behind our house lately. They’re always adventuring and exploring- bringing back treasures that they find and building forts. I recently made a quilt with my daughter and loved spending time helping her- so it seemed like it was time to make something that the boys would love. The quilt really seemed to design itself once I started. I knew I wanted to use the simple wedge to make the rows of trees, so that’s really where it all started. Then, I decided to include the log cabin blocks as a nod to the ramshackle fort that they’re so proud of building. And lastly the bearpaw blocks just naturally seemed to tie it all together.

The Beauty of Blenders

The hum of a blender spinning takes us to poolside parties and cool, tropical drinks (with those cute little umbrellas!). We’re getting thirsty just thinking about it! Refresh your summer quilts with blender fabrics in a rainbow of color! These gorgeous fabrics go beyond basic for smooth color transitions and beautiful texture. 

Blenders are incredibly versatile, from tone-on-tone prints to crackle texture and even trendy ombre. They aren’t quite solids, but they aren’t exactly patterned. They blend seamlessly into your quilt projects and add a variety of color and interest without being too intense. Blenders are great for appliqué, backgrounds, and add great dimension to any design. They’re like the twist of lime that freshens up your drink!

Beautiful Blenders

But they aren’t just made to fade into the background. Give blenders the chance to shine as a lovely border to pull color from the center of the quilt or as an expansive backing to tie it all together. Blenders work wonderfully wherever they’re used and they’re extremely adaptable. Give blenders a whirl this summer and have a blast!

Behind the scenes of BLOCK Magazine – August 2020

A Note from Jenny

Dear Quilters,

This year has been so completely out of the ordinary, and challenging in so many ways, that I find myself simplifying again and experiencing great joy in the things that I have often taken for granted. Now, preparing for the holiday season is less about the hustle and bustle of finding just the right present, but taking the time to help create a warm, welcoming spirit in my home and in my community. 

As I contemplate the spirit of generosity, I recognize that giving comes in many forms. Some give of their time and energy, some share love abundantly and easily, some can listen for hours, some give the biggest hugs, and some create handmade gifts to share. There are many ways to be generous and no matter how you like to give, your intentions absolutely matter. As we’ve experienced, the simplest gift from a child—a crumpled flower, a scribbled picture, or a sloppy kiss—can mean so much. Their intention comes through, as does ours. Never give in to the thought that your offering is insufficient. If you’ve given from the heart, that’s all that truly matters.

Considering the state of our nation, we could all use an extra boost of kindness. Let’s make this season a time to truly give from the heart and reach out to our loved ones. Let’s slow down, savor the simple moments with friends and family, and do the things that bring us joy. Please remember, you’re always welcome at Missouri Star and you are all family to me.

Love,

Jenny


WHAT IS BLOCK MAGAZINE?

BLOCK Magazine is a great way to become a part of the Missouri Star Family. The goal of this “idea book” is to empower others to learn, get inspired, and create! With more than 10 quilting projects in every issue, plus stories that warm your heart, BLOCK Magazine is sure to deliver something for everyone and become a trusted source of inspiration for your sewing room!

Produced and published right here at Missouri Star – each issue comes to you completely ad-free. We incorporate personal stories from our family and our dear readers, provide tips on favorite notions, and teach skill-building techniques.

“I don’t usually feel the need to contact the company of the magazine I purchased, however, this is a different circumstance. I just received my first issue of BLOCK Magazine. I wanted to let your company know how thoroughly impressed I am! The quality of the magazine is far more than I have come to expect from different companies. The quality of the images right down to the print stock… just fabulous! Thank you for putting so much thought and effort into your product. This is the type of publication that you hold on to. I am just so very pleased, I had to let you know.”

Lora Andera, BLOCK Magazine subscriber

WHAT’S IN THE NEXT ISSUE OF BLOCK MAGAZINE?

  • Planning ahead for the holidays with Christmas decor patterns and a Halloween bonus!
  • Learn English paper piecing and how to make a pincushion with Sue Daley!
  • Get helpful tips and tricks for fun with fusible appliqué.
BLOCK Magazine Volume 7 Issue 4 August Issue
  • In Jenny’s Journal, join her in her home studio to see what she’s been working on for her friends, grandchildren, or just for herself and her home.
  • Several quilt patterns such as Pop Stars, Diamond Terrace, and Dresden Blooms.
  • Plus part three of our Ruby Sensation Sew-Along >>>
It’s not too late to join in the fun!

HERE’S A LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES OF OUR NEXT ISSUE!

When you flip through BLOCK’s fresh, glossy pages you’ll find gorgeous photography, fun patterns, brilliant ideas, and one-of-a-kind stories! Those are all brought to you by a team of almost 30 people who bring BLOCK Magazine to life! Take a peek into all the hard work, creativity and love that is poured into each issue:

Natalie and Jenny working together to plan for BLOCK Magazine
The BLOCK Magazine copy-writing team working hard

“When we were reviewing the quilts for this upcoming issue of BLOCK, there was concern expressed that the advent calendar project was not reading as a tree in the center with the first fabric choice made (as seen below)! We decided to see if the sewing team could redo the project using different background fabric. With deadlines coming quickly, that seemed very concerning. Luckily, our team is filled with creatives that are always thinking up innovative solutions”

– Christine Ricks, Creative Director of BLOCK Magazine

“I pondered this for about six hours. Then, while driving home from dinner with my husband the ah-ha moment struck. I kept thinking about the Triple Play that Natalie, Jenny, and Misty did using hexies. Misty turned her hexies around and used the back for the front, so it dawned on me that we could turn around those red hexies to the front. We did it, and the tree is much more defined (as you can see above)!”

Courtenay Hughes, Missouri Star Academy instructor

Subscribe by Monday, July 27 to receive this next issue to your doorstep (with no shipping cost!) by mid-August! Pst! You’ll also receive April and June’s digital issues completely FREE so you can jump right in to our Ruby Sensation sew along without missing a beat!

SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

What’s Your Story? – Wounded Warrior by Marie D.

BLOCK Magazine is always looking to publish original stories from quilters like you. We believe that everyone has an important story to tell and that sharing our stories brings us closer together.

Today’s, What’s Your Story?, will touch your heart (you may want to grab a tissue!). It’s one of love, fate, and hope that all stem from a single quilt.

Thank you Marie D. for sharing your beautiful story…

About seven years ago, I was involved in a quilt guild that was making quilts to send to Wounded Warrior. The quilts were given to men and women who had served in the armed forces and returned wounded. Like all of the other ladies in the group, I made a quilt to send which was a scrappy stars and stripes pattern. The quilts could not be labeled and all donations were anonymous. As I finished the last stitch in the binding, I hugged it tight and said a little prayer for the recipient and packaged it for shipment and didn’t think another thing of it. 

Five years later, I’m scrolling through Facebook and I get a message from a boy I had dated in high school. We were high school sweethearts, but our lives took different paths. Mine took me to college and a career and I never knew where he ended up until I received that message. We began chatting frequently, talking about everything from spouses to children to everyday life. I found out that he had enlisted in the Army shortly after I left for college and was with the 101st Airborne. During his career, he had been to Afghanistan and came home wounded. 

One day while we were chatting he asked me if I fixed quilts since he had seen my posted photos. He said he had a quilt that he needed to be repaired due to wear and tear. He said he had received it while in the hospital and it was very important to him to get it fixed. I responded that normally I don’t do repairs, but for him, I would make an exception. We then made arrangements to meet so I could see what I had gotten myself into. 

On the day we were to meet, it seemed that nothing could go right. Traffic, car problems, and the weather had me praying to just make it to my destination safely. When I did finally make it, I was exhausted and cranky and honestly wanting to pick up the quilt and go. Of course, I couldn’t simply do that, so I met with my friend and his lovely wife and we chatted for a long while waiting on the weather to clear.

When it came time to depart, I remembered the reason for the trip and asked to see the quilt. I was thinking in the back of my mind that this could be next to impossible. When he brought the quilt in and showed me the damage, you could have knocked me over with a feather. He brought in the very quilt I had donated to Wounded Warrior. The tears immediately began to flow. What are the odds that someone I knew would end up with that quilt, especially when he needed it most? Once I composed myself enough to speak, I explained why I was so emotional. Then it was his turn to be speechless. He then explained how he had always felt comforted whenever he covered up with the quilt and how he was still using it to cope with severe PTSD.

After that, I was so happy to repair that quilt. To this day, he still uses it whenever he has a bad day and it still does the trick. So now whenever I make a quilt to send to our servicemen and women, I always hug it tight and say a little prayer for whoever receives it so that they may also know the comfort of a quilt made with love.

– Marie D.

As we listen, learn, and grow, greater inspiration enters our lives and our capacity to care expands. No matter how simple you believe your story to be, it’s worth sharing. Share your story >