The Patterns of Life

Friday, March 15, 2019

in News

The third Saturday in March has been designated Worldwide Quilting Day, a global celebration of quilters and their fabulous creations. Quilts began not as the intricately patterned blankets we often use today, but as padded clothing. The first evidence we have of humans wearing quilted clothing comes from ancient Egypt. Quilted clothes were uncovered at the Temple of Osiris dating back 5,000 years. Modern quilting of clothes dates back to the Middle Ages in Europe when these soft garments were worn over and under chain mail armor. The first evidence we find of quilted blankets comes from 15th-century England, but all this evidence is merely written about; few, if any, blankets from that era have survived.

English immigrants brought their sewing and quilting skills with them to America, where quilting grew into more than a practical skill—it became an art form. Patterns grew into symbols and stories. When President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862, which opened up the West for settlement, families prepared for their westward journeys by sewing quilts. These quilts have become records of history.

One of the earliest patterns, known as the Nine Patch, was simply nine squares in a three-by-three pattern. This was the quickest quilt to sew and a great and thrifty use of leftover scraps of fabric. Often, girls as young as age three or four could be taught to sew the Nine Patch pattern.
A more elaborate pattern was known as the Log Cabin. This pattern was symbolic of the home. The center square was always red, to symbolize the hearth at the heart of the home. Narrow strips
of fabric, like logs used to build frontier cabins, radiated from the center square in stacks. Light fabrics representing the light of day were sewn on one side of the quilt. Dark fabrics representing night were sewn on the opposite side. This pattern was also known as the Sunshine and Shadow. Patterns depicting pinwheels, stars, flowers, animals, crops, biblical stories, and even schoolhouses followed. Women sewed as they lived, a tradition that continues to this day.

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