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Big Sky Country Quilts History


The quilt has become a symbol of North American resourcefulness, ingenuity, and creativity. From scraps of cloth, a needle, thread, and thimble, and hours upon hours of painstaking precision and care, countless patchwork quilts have been born from the imaginations of a continent of quilters.

Quilting itself was not originated in North America, however; it is an ancient technique, traced to early civilizations in Asia and India. Sixteenth-century England is the birthplace of the quilt as we know it, where luxurious whole-cloth and appliqued quilts were the height of popularity. As early colonists migrated to the New World, they brought with them the basic principles of quilting, which consisted of the simple formula of three layers (top, batting and backing) being stitched together to form a thick, warm bedcover. Because fabric was scarce in Colonial days, sensible women began "piecing" their quilt tops with craps of leftover cloth from other sewing projects. By the early nineteenth century, these pieced quilts had evolved into the "block" form that is celebrated today as the quintessential North American quilting style.

Hundreds of quilt blocks and patterns have been imagined over the decades, from the Bear's Paw to the Bow Tie, the Endless Chain to the Evening Star, and the Honeycomb to the Hands of Friendship. The innumerable variations of quilt blocks and block arrangements allowed the quilter unending combinations and possibilities. This domestic art form was soon adopted by local cultures who modified the patchwork quilt to incorporate their own beliefs and experiences. Amish quilt makers used the richly colored fabric of their clothing to make distinctively strong, simple designs; African American quilts often fused bold African designs with traditional quilt patterns; and Native American quilters frequently included important tribal symbols in their quilts. The complexities of the quilt allowed women of all backgrounds to become the creators of something original, beautiful, highly personal, and strongly self-identified.

Margret Aldrich, Editor - A Town Square Book - Voyageur Press