Quilts that have signatures on them date back to the mid-1800s. At that time in history, people were spreading out across the United States, and these quilts were valued reminders of family and friends that had remained behind. Because these quilts were treasured keepsakes, many of them received special care and are still in good condition today.

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The most basic signature quilt is one that is constructed using a single block with signatures of family or friends. Earlier quilts often have inked signatures, while later quilts have embroidered signatures. They can be made easily from scraps, so did not require a great deal of investment in materials.

Within the signature quilt category there are different sub-groups:

Album quilts are made of pieced or appliquéd blocks. Included in the design of the block was a place for a name to be written or embroidered. These quilts were not made to be everyday functional quilts, but more a keepsake such as a wedding gift.

Presentation quilts were made when a member of a community, such as the minister or teacher, was to be honored. Containing signatures of friends and acquaintances the presentation quilt might have been given for a special event or retirement.

Fundraising quilts were signature quilts made specifically to raise money for a particular political point of view, organization, charity, and often for a church doing missionary work. For a small contribution (sometimes a dime), an individual or family name would be applied to a block and added to the quilt. Fundraising quilts are easily recognized, because they often contain large number of signatures. Due to the sheer number, sometimes the signatures are the only design elements on the quilts.

Celebrity quilts were made when quilters sent letters and blank pieces of fabric to politicians, movie or musical celebrities, or prominent members of a community and asked that they be signed and mailed back. Often the blocks were returned with a letter or signed photo of the person, which helped to authenticate the signature. The signed blocks were then sewn into a quilt.