Quilting

QuiltsQuilt making in the 19th century was more than just the home-crafted production of usable warm bedding; it was also often the excuse for a social occasion. From Colonial times materials especially made for quilting were available, but on the frontier women more often made do with dozens of small squares and triangle scraps of good quality cloth left over from making ticking, aprons, curtains, dresses and shirts, stitching these pieces into blocks, then joining the blocks together into quilts of many standard or original designs. Once the top of the quilt was complete, or even before, neighbor invited neighbor to sit around the quilting frame, a piece of handmade equipment fashioned of four sturdy lengths of wood, providing an area for the top, inside batting, and bottom layer to be stretched firmly in place so they wouldn’t pucker as the layers were sewn together. Frequently, four or more chairs were used to prop the frame up to a comfortable level for the seated quilters. At a quilting party the women might work all day, perhaps taking turns around the frame while others cooked a fine dinner to be served to the men folk that evening, while the women exchanged gossip, recipes, and housekeeping hints. The lightweight frames could be easily moved from place to place, or rigged from ceilings while work was in progress, then raised overhead at night. Of course, some women were more skilled quilters than others, and sometimes the gatherings were confined to “experienced” sewers. At other times, “quiltings” were joyous social events. In February 1846, Mrs. Sarah Montgomery invited the women (and men) who lived at or near Captain John Sutter’s New Helvetia frontier trading post on the American River to a quilting bee at her home, which was within short riding distance. They all went with Captain Sutter’s approval, leaving him to tend to his fortress compound alone for the day.   

 

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