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Handmade Quilts

Handmade Quilts History

Long before the invention of the sewing machine, quilters have been hand making their quilts. A handmade quilt is a bedspread or blanket made of two layers that is filled with a material, such as cotton, wool, feathers, or down, and is hand stitched together, usually in a decorative design.

The earliest known handmade bed quilt is from the 14th Century in Sicily. Known as the Tristan Quilts, these were originally made for a wedding gift to a pair of Sicily's aristocracy and are so beautiful in design they could have been used as wall hangings.

Stitching Methods

The three most used methods found in handmade quilts are the backstitch, the double running stitch, and the running stitch. Backstitching is the oldest method, found in the oldest known quilted artifact, a floor covering dated as early as the first century B.C., discovered in Mongolia. Backstitching makes a strong and dependable stitch resembling a machine stitch both in appearance and strength. To make a backstitch in your handmade quilt, bring the needle up from the underside of the quilt and make a small stitch backward on the top, bringing the needle back down. On the underside, go forward twice the length of the topside stitch, bringing the needle to the top ahead of the previous stitch. Now go backwards to that stitch, continuing as before.

The double running stitch resembles the backstitch except that it is reversible, meaning it looks the same whether seen from the top side of the fabric or the bottom. To make this stitch in a handmade quilt, make a first pass along the seam, working every other stitch. On the return pass, go in-between the stitches, ending where you began. Many late 16th century and 17th century handmade silk quilts are made using a double running stitch and are fully reversible.

The running stitch has become the standard stitch for handmade quilts. To make a professional looking running stitch, you will need a small needle and fine cotton fabric. As these materials became more available, this stitch became more used. To make a running stitch, pass the needle in and out of the fabric, making each stitch equal length, with the stitches on the top side about double the size of those on the bottom. With practice, the running stitch is quick and easy.


There are many different uses for handmade quilts. While early handmade quilts were used primarily as protection from hash winters and cold nights, quilt making soon became an art form, so much so that some handmade quilts are intended for wall coverings or display, not as bed coverings at all. Some collect handmade quilts as a means of connecting with the past, seeing in these old quilts traces of their ancestors.

Quilting also has many different social aspects. For example, "quilting bees" are held where large groups of people gather together to apply their quilting skills. Quilt Guild meetings are a great way for people to meet other quilters, and share in different activities and guest speakers. This is also a great opportunity to share fabrics, designs, and quilt blocks.

Today, handmade quilts enjoy a newfound popularity with books, magazines, television shows, and internet sites all dedicated to the art of quilt making. Quilting guilds and quilting conventions are also popular. A 2003 "Quilting in America" survey reports that 15% of U.S. households are involved in quilting. There are over 21 million quilters in the U.S., which means a 50% increase from the numbers reported in 1997. The survey also found that the average quilter spends $139.70 on quilting.

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RSS | September 18, 2019

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