Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The young history of quilting

For those people who have started quilting recently, or let's say in the last ten years, there's a whole history of quilting out there! And supplies, machines, tools, and much, much more. The first instances of quilting making date back to the 13th Century in Sicily. Quilting was brought to America in the late 17th century. 

But I'm talking about the young history of quilting, and how we got from templates to rotary cutters and other technological changes. Like everything in the world, the changes we've seen in quilting technology have been massive in the last few decades. 

I'm attempting to clear junk out of the office, and I came across some old quilt magazines I had put aside to write about. Today seemed like a good day to do that.

Here are the six magazines I looked at. The earliest was dated 1982!!! Seriously? Did people quilt in 1982? Of course, they did!!!! 

Old quilt magazines

The others were dated from the late 80's. 

An "old" quilt magazine

In that issue above, I spotted this article about the magazine celebrating TEN years. So the magazine was started in 1978, which was shortly after the revival of quilting in the US with the Bicentennial Celebrations. 

Ten years of quilting in the magazine!

Interestingly, while today's quilters might know about the "old" history of quilting, or perhaps some of the pioneer quilting days, do they know what has happened since the quilting revival in 1976? The last 50 years of quilting has not become history yet!!!! I'm not sure if that's a good way to say it, but many well-known quilters created tools, design concepts, and much more, and they have virtually disappeared from the radar screen. They've been replaced by the NEW, which isn't new. 

Doreen Speekman - of the Peaky and Spike fame. What about Harriet Hargrave, known for her innovative machine quilting (and wrote the BEST book on the market for machine quilting). Both are no longer with us. Eleanor Burns with her Quilt in a Day. And so many others -- it would take hours to list them all. 

Harriet Hargrave

How do we preserve their memories and remember where our current trends in quilting came from? Well, some of our current trends were started years ago—way before the revival of 1976. But I don't have space today for that. 

What did sewing machines look like in those days? OH MY GOD _- they look like toys!!!!!!

The NEW Janome sewing machine!!!

And what about embroidery machines? They also were toys!!!!!
Look at the size of the embroidery designs

It's hilarious to see this stuff, and it gives us an appreciation for what we have today!!!

Hand quilting on large frames was huge, and you'd find all kinds of ads for wooden frames for hand quilting. 

Hand quilting frames

Long-arm quilt machines existed, and while they looked similar, they were also much smaller than they are today. And forget about a robot running it!!!

Long-arm quilting machines

This was also when local guilds advertised their guild quilt shows in magazines. That was huge, even when I joined quilt guilds in the late 90s. If you wanted to promote a show, you had to get those dates in the magazine. 

Here are a couple of pages of advertising shows in Canada. 

Canadian quilt shows

I love it, as the organizer's name and address were there for all to see. We had no issues with privacy at the time!!! I think if you click on each photo, it becomes larger so you can see. 

More Canadian quilt shows

How funny is that? We had no cares in the world. 

We must find a way to preserve these memories of the young history of quilting. If we don't, that young history will be forgotten. We need to remind the emerging quilters that most of what they are creating is NOT new—not even close. The techniques they deem new are just regurgitated, being resurrected, or modified with the latest technology—but they are not new!!! 

Color schemes are very different, and design complexity and techniques have been pushed to the limits. I have more to share tomorrow. 

So, does anyone want to write a book to preserve the last 50 years of quilt history? Someone needs to do that. 

Well, that's it for today. It's been loads of fun to go back and go through all this history. This is stuff that I grew up with in the quilt world, and it's important. It's important to move forward, but it's good to know what foundations this knowledge is based on!!

Have a super day!!



  1. I am reading Michelle Obama's book "The Light We Carry". In this book she mentions a study done by The Mellon Foundation where they inventoried the monuments in the USA. The vast majority honour white men; Black and Indigenous peoples made up 10%; Women 6%; statues of mermaids out numbered female members of Congress by a ratio of 11 to 1.
    Is this how we record and honour history let alone quilting history? Could we convince local politicians to create a monument to quilting in our communities? Or even a mural? HA HA. Jackie

  2. That's really interesting. Just a note - I took my first quilting class at the local community college at the tender age of 18 in 1978.

  3. Thank you for mentioning Harriet Hargrave. She was a wonderful teacher of machine quilting. I was lucky to attend her classes.

  4. Pamela Dempsey in Northeast Texas 😻March 27, 2024 at 9:33 AM

    I enjoy going through old quilt magazines and even ordered some very old ones off eBay years ago. We were so lucky to have Doreen Speckman give a trunk show at our little guild a few years before she passed. She was funny and gave a very interesting story. I have always been interested in quilt history!🥰

  5. People like Mary Fons are writing books and updating old quilting books. The American Quilt Study Association is also actively updating quilt history. I think it is much more visible and better financed in the US. I’m looking forward to the Royal Ontario Museum putting their quilts on display, I think starting in May, 2024