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.

Morning Star Quilt

The Morning Star Quilt from Missouri Star Quilt Co. Watch the free quilt tutorial today.

Have you ever given up on a quilting project? You’re not alone! Wavy blocks and unmatched seams have frustrated quilters since the invention of needle and thread!

The Morning Star Quilt from Missouri Star Quilt Co. Watch the free quilt tutorial today.

As a result, unfinished quilts are commonly found in antique shops, and quite often, they are Morning Star quilts! This pretty star is certainly breathtaking, but all those Y-seams and tiny bias-cut diamonds have caused many a quilter to call it quits. 

Lucky for us, the magnificent Tara Faughnan designed a modern Morning Star for our MODBlock Magazine, and it’s the perfect blend of quick, easy, and exciting! Click HERE to watch the tutorial!

The Morning Star Quilt from Missouri Star Quilt Co. Watch the free quilt tutorial today.
Watch the Latest Tutorial from Missouri Star Quilt Co!

Five Fabulous Quilting Fads – Right Now.

What are fellow quilters making? Why are these designs and fabrics so popular? Are these trends new or are traditional styles making a comeback?

Don’t worry, we’ve found the answers. We’ve taken a close look into the world of quilting to find out what’s trending. Here are are the top five:

1. Stars

From Memorial Day to Veterans Day, a star quilt can find itself taking center stage all throughout the year and when we aren’t stocked up on red, white, and blue; quilters find stars to be quite innovative. Five points or ten, stars can be adjusted to fit any style from traditional to modern. Thus, the trendy star takes the cake.

Shoot for the stars with this hot trend!

Shop star-themed patterns and let your work shine!
Find fabrics filled with stars big and small.
Pick up something sweet for yourself and fit for a quilter – because you’re a STAR!

2. Hexagons

Hexagons are as old as time – well, as old at 1770 from what we can find in written quilt history. Over the years, quilters have transformed the way we create hexagons and with English paper piecing, fussy cutting, and quilt-as-you-go projects, today’s hexagon quilts are full of unique possibilities.

We’ll put a hex on you with these amazing hexagon items, but don’t worry, this is one spell you won’t want to break:

Hexi Precuts are flying off the shelves! Get them while you can!
Grab the templates you need to create amazing hexagon designs.
Find a new project with these popular hexagon patterns.

3. Curves

Everyone knows quilters are resilient so what do we do when life throws us a curve ball? We make a quilt! Lately, sewists are embracing the challenges that curves bring, and becoming more confident in piecing them together.

Start conquering your own curves with these ideas:

Make an Easy Clamshell (shown above).
Find your way with the Courtyard Path.
Let your curves run wild with the Drunkard’s Path Template.
Need a little help? Take our Piecing Curves with Confidence online class!

4. Appliqué Animals

Sometimes your quilt just needs that extra cute factor and what better than adding an appliqué animal! A perfect addition to a soft, cuddly baby quilt or to add a little fun and imagination to your next project, appliqué animals are so popular because they’re so easy to create!

Check out how these appliqué animals make these projects pop:

Get crafty with woodland creatures.
Are you a dog person or a cat person?
Learn how to finish all your appliqué projects by hand or by machine in our online classes.

5. Modern & Bold

More and more quilters have started testing the waters of the new, modern quilting style! Fresh and colorful with beautiful contrasts, it’s no wonder why modern quilts have become so popular recently.

Step out of your comfort zone and be bold:

Find the most amazing, unique designs you’ve ever seen in our collection of modern-style patterns.
Explore bold colors and intricately designed prints.
Find mountains of inspiration in our ModBLOCK Magazines.

Now through March 21, 2020, receive a Golden Star scratch-off ticket for every $25 you spend! Every ticket wins! Learn more about our Golden Star Sweepstakes >

What’s your favorite trend of the year and which trendy project will you work on next?! Let us know in the comments!

New Friday Tutorial: The Rhombus Quilt

MSQC New Tutorial on the Blog!

Make a Rhombus Cube Quilt with No Y Seams! Step by Step Video Tutorial with Jenny Doan!

The dreaded Y seam. The mere mention of this heinous seam can strike fear in even the most seasoned quilter. It’s so bad that some of us shy away from beautiful quilt patterns just to avoid Y seams altogether. If you love the look of tumbling block quilts but have been too chicken to make your own, you’re going to love Jenny’s easy new version, the Rhombus Cube Quilt! You’ll get that same 3D look without a single Y seam!

Make a Rhombus Cube Quilt with No Y Seams! Step by Step Video Tutorial with Jenny Doan!

If you’re one of those people who actually enjoys Y seams, you’ll still love the new MSQC Rhombus template! It is so handy because it’s not only a rhombus, but turn it on its side and it’s an equilateral triangle that fits a 5″ square perfectly!

Get ModBLOCK Vol. 2 from Missouri Star Quilt Co!

Another version of this quilt is featured in our latest ModBlock Vol. 2, created by the amazing Christina Ricks! So, if you’ve been waiting to decide whether you NEED it, today’s tutorial might convince you. It gives more detailed written instructions on how to use the template as well!

rhombus template fb

Say goodbye to Y seams and hello to the Rhombus Cube Quilt!

Make a Rhombus Cube Quilt with No Y Seams! Free Video Tutorial with Jenny Doan!

Click on the button bellow to watch the tutorial and get all the supplies you need to make your own Rhombus Cube Quilt! Happy Quilting! #rhombuscubequilt

watch tutorial shop supplies

Winter 2016 Issue of BLOCK Magazine

By now we hope you’ve had a chance to read the latest issue of BLOCK magazine. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s full of ideas and wonderful stories. Are you feeling inspired to make something new? Keep sharing your projects with us using #makesomethingtoday on social media. We think you’re sew amazing!

To help you get you started on your favorite new project, we’ve put together everything you’ll need to see your ideas come to life! Click HERE to find the perfect fabrics, all the necessary templates and supplies, Jenny’s tutorials from YouTube, and even links for machine quilting. After all, what’s the fun of an idea book if those ideas never become reality? We know you’ve got it in you! You’re a quilting champion!

Pssst… The second issue of ModBlock is fresh off the press and we’re so excited! We think you’ll love the innovative ideas and inspiring projects! They’re for everyone, whether you consider yourself a modern quilter or if you just want to try something new. This is a special edition of BLOCK and is not included in your regular BLOCK Subscription, but it’s a great addition to any order! Grab your very own copy HERE and start quilting outside the box!

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