A Timeline of Quilting History in America

Pre-colonial Europe The concept of patchwork, to make efficient or frugal use of valuable woven textiles is known in various parts of the world. Applique is practiced for decorative purposes on clothing and home furnishings. Padded and quilted (stitched) garments are worn for warmth, geometric stitching patterns on linings can be construed as decorative, but most quilted garments were either worn as underwear or were covered with an outer layer of fashionable (and unquilted) silk. The techniques have not yet been combined into what we recognize as a quilt.
1600's and the American Colonial Era Home furnishings such as draperies and bed covers, when not made from fancy tapestry or printed panels, are embroidered or have applique designs similar to the embroidery. Trapunto comes into use, both as block work, and as whole-cloth work. Quilted counterpanes are either made in the whole-cloth style from both plain and printed fabrics, or are applique works centered around a large medallion. Colonial American cloth is woven from flax or wool, or combined to make linsey-wolsey. Much fabric is imported from Europe, most quilts are imported commercially due to lack of industry in the colonies.
early 1700's Earliest Amish settlements in Pennsylvania. Floral fabrics from France are popular imports for broderie perse. Mosaic style quilts featuring the Tree of Life and Flowers in an Urn are popular.
1708 Oldest surviving wholly intact quilt dates to this year, done in a broderie perse mosaic style.
1726 Oldest surviving American made quilt dates from this time.
~1750+ Imported Chintz (glazed cotton) gains popularity for quilting. This quality fabric does not shrink like wool and survives laundering better than linen and silk. Quilting is becoming more popular in the colonies, whole-cloth is still the most widely used technique.
1760 White linen whole-cloth counterpane (quilt) in Smithsonian collection signed and dated in cross-stitch. Quilting stitches are done as a center medallion, flowers, feathered stems, and baskets, with a background of close parallel lines.
1775-1789 War of Independence severely limits availability of imported fabrics. Quilts with patriotic themes are popular, depicting battles, heroes, and symbols of the revolution. Memorial quilts are made using clothing of the deceased. Applique and broderie perse (a late 18th century term) are being used.
1782 The eagle is adopted as a national symbol and becomes incorporated in many quilts.
1783 Roller printing is first used to make patterned fabric in England. Can produce in 4 minutes the same amount of fabric it would take 6 hours to do by hand.
~1785 Patriotic prints made for the American market are introduced.
~1790 Floral wreath and basket applique becomes popular as a quilt design. Quilts are sometimes bound with woven cotton or linen tape, or narrow strips of straight-cut fabric. Intricate feathered hearts, flowers, vines and other motifs quilted during this period indicate highly accomplished stitchery and already-developed patterns for quilting.
1793 Invention of the cotton gin leads to rise of cotton industry and mills in the northeast.
~1795 Pieced Pinwheel block pattern developed. Patchwork blocks and pieced borders begin to be incorporated in quilts , but the overall design still consists of a center medallion with one or more borders. Pieced blocks are used in strips as border treatments, or as corner blocks for other borders. Reverse applique is being used in medallion centers.
~1800 Beginning of the Pioneer Era. Nine-patch and Grandmother's Basket (basket with no handle) appear as block patterns. Cloth panels specifically for making into quilt tops begin to be imported. Floral motifs are cut out and appliqued in swags, wreaths, and bouquets to frame a pre-printed center medallion panel. Marseilles Work, a type of loomed in imitation of whitework quilting is a popular import.
1806 Irish Chain pattern known. May be first use of block pattern as an overall design.
1809 A successful single green dye is introduced, making the color easier and cheaper to produce. Prior to this green is made by printing blue and yellow in the same space.
1810-1830 County Fairs begin to appear, offering prizes for needlework. Log Cabin patterns developed, first Barn Raising and then Courthouse Steps variations. The zig-zag Streak of Lightning pattern appears. Quilting is done in flower, heart, and quatrefoil designs.
1812 Second War of Independence. Patriotic themes increase.
1814 The power loom is installed in Waltham, MA. First American factory production of cloth and thread begins.
1815 Eight-pointed Star, Ohio Star, and Hourglass patterns are in use.
~1820 The quilting bee is "an established tradition". Quilting is introduced to Hawaii by missionaries. The pieced patterns Irish Chain, Double Irish Chain, Clamshell, and Thousand Pyramids are known.
~1830 Permanent ink makes signature quilts more popular. Appearance of Feathered Star, and Nine-Patch-Wild-Goose variation. Lone Star (Star of Bethlehem, Rising Sun) patterns known. Godey's Lady's Book introduced, with regular needlework and quilting sections. American mills are producing cotton calicoes.
1800-1840 Increase in use of block patterns rather than whole-cloth quilts, although whole-cloth is still more fashionable. Sashing comes into use to frame individual blocks. Patchwork blocks are both portable and frugal uses for scraps, and may have become popular among pioneer women as a result.
1833 Chips & Whetstones (aka Mariner's Compass) appears. Colorful, bright and flamboyant chintz is popular.
1834-1859 Applique album samplers popular, using applique in borders and consisting of individual blocks made in patterns of flowers and leaves. Often referred to as the "Baltimore Album" style, these quilts are found from New York to Virginia. Patterns are created from folded paper. Dresden Plate pattern known. Development of Lemoyne Star, Texas Star and Blazing Star variations. Manufactured blankets and bed coverings are competing with home-made quilts.
1835 Quilts made in blue and white become common. Bay Leaf, Magnolia, and applique patterns known. Appearance of hexagon Honeycomb patchwork (aka Grandmother's Flower Garden).
1837 Carolina Lily pattern known. Stenciled names, dates, flowers, birds, and other motifs appear on quilts, mirroring the practice of interior decorating.
~1840 Fox & Geese, Garden Maze, and Orange Peel patterns known. Red, green, and white become a popular combination of colors for quilting, red and green are more available in solids. Fringe is used on bindings. Inscriptions are quilted, appliqued and worked in trapunto.
1842-1843 Oak Leaf and Reel, Wild Goose Chase/Goose in the Pond, Crosses and Losses/Fox and Geese, Feathered Star, Ocean Waves and several variations of Chips and Whetstones appear in a sampler quilt with pinwheels, album patches, and 8-pointed stars. Piecework starts to become unfashionable.
1845 Roller printing technology used in America. Introduction of permanent inks makes signature friendship quilts popular in following years.
1846 First commercial quilt batting is produced. Princess Feather applique pattern known.
1850 First "cheater cloth" available on the American market. Whig Rose applique pattern is known. Pineburr and Pickle Dish pieced patterns known.
1851 Sewing machine patented.
1854 "Stitching machines" offered for home use.
1855 Sunburst and Peony patterns known.
1856 Coal tar dyes make modern, bright, synthetic colors possible.
1858 Rocky Mountain or New York Beauty pattern known. Patchwork viewed as a lower class activity, for keeping children busy and for covering servant's beds.
1860 Sewing machine with modern lockstich developed. Immediately in use for everything from piecework to trapunto to quilting. Tan is popular as a color choice until about 1880. Basket patterns now made with handles. Double Hearts pattern known.
1861-1865 American Civil War. Traditional German motifs, similar to the album style, become more widespread with immigrational influences. The bouquet and urn design on white is popular.
1863 Commercially packaged dyes marketed for home use.
1870 Popularity of the Crazy Quilt begins. Embellished lap quilts and throws are common for the next 30 years, as are quilts made in pink and brown combinations.
1873 William Morris revives chintz and block printing techniques.
1875 Ocean waves pattern is known.
1876 Centennial Album quilts are popular. Plaid cotton flannel is popular for quilt backings until the 1920's.
~1880 Use of wool and silk increasing in quilts. Remains until about 1925. The Suffrage movement adopts the blue and white Drunkard's Path pattern, initiates the raffle quilt as a fund-raiser.
~1885 Rusty browns gain popularity as colors for quilting.
~1890 Feed sacks are introduced with printed fabrics. Technology enables fabric to be printed black with white patterns. Introduction of Double Wedding Ring pattern. Bear's Paw and Schoolhouse blocks known.
~1900 Double Wedding Ring gaining in popularity. Penny Quilts, made with small circles of wool appliqued in patterns, and Puff Quilts made from small stuffed patches are increasing in popularity as alternate formes of quilting. The use of "cheater's cloth" continues, and better milling practices make cotton batting without seed particles.
~1914 Embroidered "red work" with nursery characters, baskets, birds, and flowers is popular for quilt blocks.
1920 Blocks colored with crayons and heat set are popular.
1925 Multi-stranded embroidery thread is introduced. Satin and Sateen begin to be popular, especially as whole-cloth quilts, and remains so through about 1950. Applique outlined with black thread in a buttonhole stitch is also popular.
1927-1939 Revival of printed quilt patterns in newspapers and company brochures.
1929-1939
The Great Depression
Quilts of this era are characterized by their use of scraps, especially feed, flour, and sugar sack prints, and colors in the pastel range, particularly shades of purple. Applique kits become popular, as do scalloped borders. Sunbonnet Sue is born. Grandmother's Flower Garden becomes a popular use for scraps.
1930 Introduction of Airplane block.
~1950 Machine made quilts are available in department stores. Polyester fabrics and batting are introduced.
1963 Synthetic threads are available.
1976 The Bicentennial revives interest in traditonal crafts, folk arts, and history.
NOTES: Dates listed with a ~ (tilde) are approximations or general time periods. Other events may overlap time periods indicated. Dates given for a "known" pattern means I found a quilt with that pattern dated to that year or time period. Documented corrections or additions are welcomed.
REFERENCES:

Anderson, Suzy McLennan. Collector's Guide to Quilts. Radnor, PA: Wallace-Homestead, 1991. ISBN: 0-87069-534-7

Bowman, Doris M. American Quilts. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1991. ISBN: 0-517-05952-5

Greenbacker, Liz and Kathleen Barach. Quilts: Identification and price guide. New York: Avon Books, 1992. ISBN: 0-380-76930-1

Texas Heritage Quilt Society. Texas Quilts Texas Treasures. Paducah, KY: American Quilt Society, 1986. ISBN: 0-89145-917-0

Larkin, Jack and Lynne Z. Bassett. Northern Comfort New England's Early Quilts 1780-1850. Old Sturbridge Village Publications, 1988.


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