Many beautiful quilts made by our grandmothers are now treasured possessions in the homes of to-day. There is a charm about the exquisite workmanship and quaint colourings that appeals to us, and it is not a matter of surprise that to-day there are still women who make their living by the quilting craft. Puritan housewives and pioneer maids were adepts at this work, and this needlecraft flourished all through the eighteenth century, and continued to be popular to within the last forty years. Matrons of to-day tell us of the quilting parties they attended in their girlhood, which were social events keenly looked forward to by young and old.
When the patchwork was completed and lined, it was placed in the quilting-frame, which consisted of four bars of wood, 10 feet long. The bars were crossed and tied firmly at the corners, and the frame placed on the backs of chairs, thus enabling the quilters to sit around and do the quilting. When the quilt was finished as far as the hand could reach easily, it was rolled up on the bars and clamped again at the corners, and continued until the centre was reached.
Toward tea-time the husbands and brothers used to join the party, and a merry social time was then enjoyed. After tea, the quilting was sometimes resumed, and the men helped or hindered by waxing the thread and threading the needles for the ladies.
In Colonial days the quilting parties served to break the monotony, of the long winters, and were extremely popular, for some people attended as many as thirty quilting parties in a winter. Much zest was given to them by the exchange of calicoes, pompadours, India chintzes, and high-priced French cambrics. They discussed designs and admired materials, and talked over combinations of colourings with as much spirit as though it were of as much importance as a matter of state. The materials worked into these quilts bear little resemblance to the cheap aniline-dyed calicoes of to-day, for many of them have survived a generation of wear, and their colouring is as beautiful as the day they were made into patchwork.
The amount of time spent in careful fitting, deciding on a dainty design, and experimenting with intricate stitches can hardly be credited, but the women of that day revelled in the work, and therefore we need not pity them. A beautiful quilt in the possession of an old Quaker family in Germantown was made from the pieces of silk supplied by a maker of Friends' bonnets. This coverlet looks like the back of a dove, with its soft grays and tans of which it is composed.
Quaint descriptive names were given to the various patterns, such as "Log Cabin," "Job's Trouble," "Rising Sun," "Dove in the Window," "Crows' Feet," "Love's Knot," and such floral names as " Dutch Tulip " and " Rose of Sharon."
The making of the quilt was done in the following manner: - The pattern for the patchwork was first cut out of stiff pasteboard, and the pieces of material cut from the patterns. As every scrap was used up, the small patterns had numerous seams which hardly showed when the quilting came over them. The making of the top of the quilt would be the fancy work of months, but the interest never seemed to flag.
When the patchwork was completed it was laid on the lining with layers of wool or cotton wadding between, and the edges were basted all around. It was then ready for the quilting-frame. Many of these old-time bedspreads dispensed with the patchwork, and were merely quilted. These were usually termed "pressed quilts," and were very often made in white and cream washing materials. They were often finished off with hand-made netted fringes which were works of art in themselves. Most intricate designs were employed in the making of these pressed quilts, and sometimes not a quarter of an inch of surface would be without quilting stiches.
In the earlier days a very laborious process of marking was resorted to. A string was dipped in thick starch, and was then placed on the quilt and tapped so that the mark of the starch was impressed on the quilt. This left a faint line that could be brushed off when the quilting was done; later, different coloured chalks were used. These days of ready-marked materials for needlework, and practical methods of transferring patterns, make us realize that these old-time methods must have been very tiresome.
When a counterpane has been quilted, it needs finishing neatly. There are several ways of doing this. The piece is taken out of the frame and laid on a large table, and cut neatly on the four sides. The edges are neatly turned and seamed or bound with white, or, if it is a silk cover, it is done with a pretty coloured ribbon that harmonizes with the predominating shades. Sometimes when the quilt consists of a set pattern done in one solid colour on a light ground, 2 or 3 inches of the dark shade is used for the border.
All kinds of fancy stitching were used to embellish the quilts, herring-bone, outline stitch, and cross stitch. Sometimes a dainty little flower was worked in embroidery silk in each pattern, and again accent was given by a spot of dark colour worked in silk. Occasionally a bold flower was outlined to bring it into strong relief. In fact, there was no end to the ideas and contrivances for making this handicraft original and distinctive, and each worker vied with each other to make the most original and beautiful bedspread.
In looking at old-time patchwork quilts, the day in which they were made can be told by the prints and calicoes that were used in their make-up. These old-time prints were certainly much more beautiful than those of to-day, but in the earlier Colonial days calicoes were scarce, and old woollen garments and worn-out flannel sheets and old coat linings were brought into service, after first being dipped in the family dye-pot of old blue or madder.
Long ago bits of stuff were sold in small bundles at country auction sales, and many were the keen bidders who bought up these remnants, which were usually woollen. Quilts made of washing materials were a later innovation.
It was like listening to a story to hear an old lady describe a quilt into which she had worked pieces of "my daughter's wedding gown" and "my son's cloak." The quilt was replete with memories, for part of the silk bonnet worn at her son's wedding was lovingly stitched into it, and the creamy portions of ivory satin were remnants of her own wedding gown.
There are many more profitable employments than the rather tedious one of quilting, but there are times when a girl wishes she were familiar with the process, if only to be able to help others. This knowledge might be invaluable when she wishes to instruct some poor woman into the mysteries, or when she feels the opportunity has come to introduce it into the almshouses, for, though slow and comparatively unremunerative, it is very pleasant work, and appeals to the aged poor. It is congenial to be gathered together round a frame, and makes for good fellowship in communities.