What is a Quilt?
The dictionary definition of a quilt is as follows: a coverlet for a bed made of two layers of fabric with some soft substance, such as down or wool, between them and stitched in patterns or tufted through all thicknesses in order to prevent the filling from shifting. Early quilts were used as a means of providing warmth. Rather than using only one layer of covering to keep warm, early settlers probably realized that two layers are warmer than one. Our modern day quilts follow this same idea.
Early Quilting History
Fabric is perishable and deteriorates significantly over long periods of time. One of the earliest examples of a quilted garment that was found intact was discovered on a carved ivory figure of one of the first Egyptian Pharaohs, dated roughly to 3400 B.C. Another early example of a quilt was found by archeologists in Mongolia. This quilt was used as a floor covering and dates back to somewhere between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D.
"Quilt Show" History
The early nineteenth century saw a major boom in quilt making. This was the beginning of the "Pioneer Era" with settlers moving west and developing new frontiers. It was during this time that the earliest forms of quilt shows began. The popular "Country Fairs" began to appear, where quilt makers could receive prizes for their valuable quilts. Also popular during this time was the "Quilting Bee", an important social event in which colonial women would gather early in the morning for an all-day quilting session. In the evening, dinner was served for all the hard working quilters and their husbands, followed by a night of square dancing. As the textile industry developed, more fabrics were available to quilt makers, making it easier than ever to make big and beautiful quilts. New quilt designs were introduced; in fact, most patterns found in today's quilts were developed during this period.
Today's Quilt Shows
The earliest forms of quilts found in 3400 B.C. were no doubt quite simple compared to the ornate and beautifully sewn designs found in today's quilts. Those who take quilting seriously will often partake in quilt shows. These quilt shows are venues where anyone from the professional to the amateur quilter can view the latest patterns and techniques in quilt-making. Quilt shows take place year-round all over the United States and several times a year in countries like Canada, Australia, England, the Netherlands, Wales, and Italy.
Like the early Pioneer era's "Quilting Bee", today's quilt shows also offer both classes and lectures in quilt-making. Some quilt shows even feature a sewing room where new techniques and patterns can be tried out.
Quilt shows usually include quilt-making contests where prizes are given to quilts in various categories including "Best in Show", "Applique", "Miniatures", "Fabric Art", "Wall Quilts" and more. Hundreds of quilts are usually submitted in a quilt show, but only a handful will be selected for prizes and honors. Monetary awards are most often given ranging anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars. It is not uncommon for a quilt show prize to be a top of the line sewing machine valued in the thousands of dollars.
Today, quilts enjoy a newfound popularity with books, magazines, television shows, and internet sites all dedicated to the art of quilt making. 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. Quilting has enjoyed quite a long history and has no doubt evolved greatly from the first quilt discovered. From Pharaoh's garments to the 2006 Indiana Heritage Quilt Show's "Best in Show", quilts remain an interesting and useful way to use fabric and express one's creativity, and quilt shows are a great way to explore and appreciate quilting.
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| April 24, 2019
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