Civil War Quilts
Mourning and Victorian Quilts
20th Century American
Quilts (new page)
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In Colonial times, quilts were objects of the wealthy as threads,
needles, and cotton were very expensive. It was only after Connecticut
inventor, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793 that Americans had
the opportunity to produce quilts economically. Whitney’s cotton gin
separated the cotton from its annoying hulls and revolutionized the
By the 19th Century, the American shipping industry gave
quilters greater access to fabrics resulting in quilts made of wool,
cotton and imported silk. By 1850, new trading opportunities with Asia
reduced the price of silk and silk quilts with elaborate stitching and
appliqué work grew in popularity. By 1859, mercerized threads that were
treated to improve strength and embraced by quilters nationwide.
Some of the most common designs like the Nine Patch, Patchwork, and Ohio
Star quilts were produced using plain blocks of fabric in the form of
flowers, baskets and wreaths. The process of stuffing a quilt was popular
from about 1800 to 1840 and by 1850, egg or honey glazed fabrics, polished
cottons, and chintz were all the rage for quilts.
Civil War Quilts
The Civil War marked a season of tremendous change in American
quilting. In the early 1860s, men took quilts along to serve as bedding as
they served in the military. The wartime quilt was used to communicate a
soldier’s religious beliefs, to smuggle secret messages, and even to
provide supplies through enemy lines. Due to wartime shortages, many
quilts were made of discarded clothing. About the time of the Civil War,
the patchwork or “scrap” quilt became popular. Fallen soldiers would
be rolled in family quilts and buried on Civil War battlefields. Today
Civil War era and gorgeous Amish quilts from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and
Michigan have spiked in value into the tens of thousands of dollars.
In 1846, Elias Howe Jr. redesigned the sewing machine for use in the
production of shoes. Howe's main competitor, Isaac Singer, received a
patent in 1851 for a sewing machine with a foot pedal that allowed for
hands-free operation. Singer's primary contribution to sewing machine
history was his marketing techniques. Singer offered an installment plan
and a trade-in allowance in an effort to put a sewing machine in every
American home. By 1870, Singer sold 200,000 sewing machines annually. The
sewing machine became a well documented status symbol of the 19th Century
life. This appliance would be prominently displayed in the best of homes.
The 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia,
PA had a pronounced influence on American quilts. Traditional Colonial
style quilting designs were reintroduced after 1876 and in memory of
fallen Civil War soldiers, many quilts were produced in black and white,
gray on gray, burgundy and deep purple from madder brown, copper brown,
cocoa, and chrome dyes. These dark colors were enhanced by the period that
marks the first of reliable, colorfast synthetic dyes. These dyes made
fabrics easier to wash.
By the Victorian period or the late 1800s, the Crazy Quilt was
fashionable. These were quilts made of silk, satin,
and other materials and embellished with embroidery, ribbons, and even
hand painted blocks. Many collectors will invest between $2,000 and $8,000
for a period Crazy Quilt in good condition.
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