Although many handmade quilts are family heirlooms hung on walls or displayed in glass cases, there are quiltmakers today who sell their wares for money, and some who even make handmade quilts on commission. While antique quilts are often considered works of art, modern quilts are considered beautiful and decorative, in addition to being warm and cozy.
Decades ago, most women did not make quilts for pleasure, but out of necessity. Regular quilting bees were an important means of socializing for colonial and pioneer women. Before the quilting bee could be held, though, women would meet during winter months to piece together the tops of quilts. Not only did it give women a chance to discuss their daily lives and family issues, it was just more practical to work on the quilts together since there was no central heating and the women could share one central room. Usually, the room was too crowded for a quilt frame to be assembled, so the women would work on sewing the individual squares. When the weather warmed, all the neighborhood women would be invited to a quilting bee. On that day, quilters would arrive early and begin marking the quilt top, which had been put into the quilt frame by the hostess, then the quilters would begin to put together the top while exchanging conversation. By the time the quilt was finished, husbands and suitors were beginning to arrive, and after dinner they would have a square dance with fiddles accompanying the dancers. Quilting bees were a very important part of the social life of people whose entertainment centered around each other instead of the television.
These days, quilting bees are less common, particularly in urban areas, but they do still exist. The art of creating a quilt, like most hobbies that involve craftsmanship skills, results in a great sense of pride being attached to the finished creation. Handmade quilts are not easy to make, but they are usually more sturdy and ultimately more valuable than quilts made by machine stitching. Usually, handmade quilts are made from patches, or small squares of different types and colors of cloth, pieced together with a solid-colored backing. Most quilts are made following some kind of pattern-daisies, starbursts, geometrical patterns, or log cabin styles-but some are random patches sewn together with a solid-colored border encompassing them. Many different patterns and designs have been handed down from one generation to the next, originating from the imagination of the quiltmaker, in the hands of hardworking women working to keep their families warm.
In order to make a handmade quilt, you will need a pattern, even for plain geometric designs. Most fabric and handicraft stores sell quilt patterns, or you can make your own or use one that has been passed down from previous generations. Patches, in the early days of quiltmaking, were usually made from pieces of work clothing that were no longer serviceable for wearing-shirts or pants that had been ripped or worn beyond repair, or clothing that the wearer had outgrown. It is no longer necessary to use patches made from worn clothing, although it does make for a more unique quilt, and sometimes a more nostalgic one, if the material comes from a favorite outfit. Many crafting stores sell pre-made quilt patches and even quilting kits containing all the fabric necessary, along with the quilt pattern. Or you can use new material to make your own unique handmade quilt. A neutral colored thread is absolutely necessary, unless you want to keep changing colors while working on each patch of the top. After the patches of the top are sewn together, you will need a large piece of material to use as the backing for your quilt. An old or new sheet is perfect for this, or a section of new material purchased for this purpose. If you buy new material, be sure it can be washed regularly at home.
Most people who enjoy quilts prefer hand-sewn handmade quilts because of the attention to detail and fine, intricate work involved in piecing them. For quilters who create quilts to sell, handmade quilts generally bring more money than machine-sewn quilts. For those who make quilts as a hobby, handmade quilts can be given away as unusually thoughtful gifts. They are wonderful to use on a cold winter night, but most importantly, they are a wonderful piece of history just waiting to be passed down the line to generations to come.