Story originally published by lancasteronline.com.
Quilts are often seen as a frugal craft because fabric scraps and old clothing can be upcycled into something beautiful. But in colonial America, quilts were only made by those who had the most money and time. Cloth and thread were expensive and women didn’t have the time to spend on handicrafts.
Wendell Zercher, curator of Lancasterhistory.org, says: "Women didn’t have time to mess around spending time making quilts. So, quilts were not an option."
At the presentation, Zercher showed off a quilt made by one of these elite – a quilt made from chintz fabric around 1815. The quilt is not dated or marked, but experts estimate it was made in the early 1800s based on the techniques and kind of fabric.
The original maker of this quilt used the Broderie Perse method, cutting out each decorative element from printed chintz and arranging them onto the quilt. The chintz fabric was block-printed by hand with plant and mineral dyes – something that would have been extremely expensive to import to colonial America.
For those who were able to afford to quilt in the early 1800s, the most popular quilt designs emphasized a round medallion in the center of the quilt, or involved framing an image in the center, like this quilt. This quilt’s maker used tiny, decorative quilting stitches and Persian embroidery techniques to add the finishing touches.
This presentation was the first in a series about the quilts in Lancasterhistory.org’s collection, which has quilts dating back to 1786.