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All about quilts

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A patchwork and embroidery quilt that displays flowers and birds

A quilt is a type of blanket, traditionally composed of three layers of fibre: a woven cloth top, a layer of batting or wadding, and a woven back, combined using the technique of quilting.

Quilts are distinguished from other types of blanket because they are pieced together from several layers of cloth by stitches or ties. Where a single piece of fabric is used for the top, (a “wholecloth quilt”), the key decorative element is likely to be the pattern of stitching, but where the top is “pieced” from a patchwork of smaller fabric pieces, the pattern and colour of the pieces will be important.

Although quilts have many functional uses, the work involved in creating them and their decorative possibilities have led to them having cultural importance in many places and times, and they are increasingly also treated as a visual art form.


There are many traditions regarding the design and characteristics of quilts, and they may be made or given to mark important life events such as marriage, the birth of a child, a family member leaving home, or graduations. Modern quilts are not always intended for use as bedding, and may be used as wall hangings, table runners, or tablecloth. Quilting techniques are often incorporated into garment design. Quilt shows and competitions are held locally, regionally and in national shows. There are international competitions as well, particularly in the United States, Japan and Europe.

Little Amsterdam

The following list summarizes most of the reasons a person might decide to make a quilt:

  • Bedding
  • Decoration
  • Armoury (e.g. for the garment called a gambeson)
  • Commemoration, e.g. the AIDS Memorial Quilt
  • Education (e.g. a "Science" quilt or a "Gardening" quilt)
  • Campaigning
  • Documenting events / social history, etc.
  • Artistic expression
  • Traditional gift
  • Fundraiser


Quilting traditions are particularly prominent in the United States, where the necessity of creating warm bedding met the paucity of local fabrics in the early days of the colonies. Imported fabric was very expensive, and local “homespun” fabric was labour-intensive to create and tended to wear out sooner than commercial fabric. It was essential for most families to use and preserve textiles efficiently. Saving or salvaging small scraps of fabric was a part of life for all households. Small pieces of fabric were joined together, to make larger pieces, in units called “blocks”. Creativity could be expressed in the block designs, or simple “utility quilts”, with minimal decorative value, could be produced. “Crib quilts” for infants were needed in the cold of winter, but even early examples of beautiful baby quilts indicate the efforts that women made to welcome a new baby.

A quilting bee in Central Park

Quilting was often a communal activity, involving women and girls in a family, or in a larger community. The tops were prepared in advance, and a "quilting bee" was arranged, during which the actual quilting was completed by multiple people. "Quilting frames" were often used to stretch the quilt layers, and maintain even tension to produce high quality quilting stitches, and to allow many individual quilters to work on a single quilt at one time. Quilting bees were important social events in many communities, and were typically held between periods of high demand for farm labour. Quilts were frequently made to commemorate major life events, such as marriages.

There are many traditions of the number of quilts a young woman (and her family) were expected to have made prior to her wedding, for the establishment of her new home. Given the demands on a new wife, and the learning curve in her new role, it was prudent to provide her some reserve time with quilts already completed. Specific wedding quilts continue to be made today. “Wedding ring” quilts have been made since the 1930s, and represent two interlocked rings in the patchwork design. White, wholecloth quilts with high quality, elaborate quilting and often trapunto decorations, are also traditional for weddings. Interestingly, it was considered bad luck to incorporate heart motifs in a wedding quilt (the couples’ hearts might be broken if such a design were included), so tulip motifs were often used to symbolize love in wedding quilts. Quilts were often made for other events, such as graduations, or when individuals left their homes for other communities. Farewell gifts for pastors were made, and some were “subscription” quilts. Community members would pay to have their names embroidered on the quilt top, and the proceeds were given to the departing minister. Sometimes the quilts were auctioned, for further money, and the quilt might be donated back to the minister by the winner. It was a logical application of this tradition to raising money for other community projects, such as recovery from a flood or natural disaster, and later, for fundraising for war. Subscription quilts were made for all of America’s wars. In a new tradition, quilt makers across the United States have been making quilts for wounded veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. These quilts symbolize the respect the community feels toward the veterans, who put themselves at risk, serving their country.



Quilt block in appliqué and reverse appliqué

Appliqué is a sewing technique where an upper layer of fabric is sewn onto a ground fabric, with the raw edges of the "applied" fabric tucked beneath the design to minimize ravelling or damage. The upper, applied fabric shape can be of any shape or contour. The edge of the upper fabric is folded under as it is sewn down in the "needle turn" method, and small hand stitches are made to secure down the design. The stitches are made with a hem stitch, so that the thread securing the fabric is minimally visible from the front of the work. There are other methods to secure the raw edge of the applied fabric, and some people use basting stitches, fabric-safe glue, freezer paper, paper forms, or starching techniques to prepare the fabric that will be applied, prior to initiating sewing. Supporting paper or other materials are typically removed after the sewing is complete. The ground fabric is often cut away from behind, after completion of the sewing of whatever method, in order to minimize the bulk of the fabric in that region. A special form of appliqué is "broderie perse", which involves appliqué of specific motifs that have been selected from a printed fabric. For example, a series of flower designs might be cut out of one fabric with a vine design, rearranged and sewn down on a new fabric, to create the image of a rose bush.

Reverse appliqué
Reverse appliqué is a sewing technique where a ground fabric is cut, and another piece of fabric is placed under the ground fabric, and the raw edges of the ground fabric are tucked under and the newly folded edge is sewn down to the lower fabric. Stitches are made as inconspicuous as possible. Reverse appliqué techniques are often used in combination with traditional appliqué techniques, to give a variety of visual effects.

Trapunto is a sewing technique where two layers of fabric surrounding a layer of batting are quilted together, and then additional material is added to a portion of the design to increase the profile of relief as compared to the rest of the work. The effect of the elevation of one portion is often heightened by closely quilting the surrounding region, to compress the batting layer in that part of the quilt, thus receding the background even further. "Cording" techniques may also be used, where a channel is created by quilting, and a cord or yarn is pulled through the batting layer, causing a sharp change in the texture of the quilt. For example, several pockets may be quilted in the pattern of a flower, and then extra batting pushed through a slit in the backing fabric (and this slit later sewn shut). The stem of the rose might be corded, creating a dimensional effect. The background could be quilted densely in a stipple pattern, causing the space around the rose bush to become less prominent. These techniques are typically executed with whole cloth quilts, and with batting and thread that matches the top fabric. Some artists have used contrasting coloured thread, to create an "outline" effect. Coloured batting behind the surface layer can create a shadowed effect. Brightly coloured yarn cording behind white cloth can give a pastel effect on the surface.

Additional decorative elements may be added to the surface of a quilt to add a 3-dimensional or whimsical effect. The most common objects sewn on are beads or buttons. Decorative trim, piping, sequins, found objects, or other items can be secured to the surface. The topic of embellishment is explored further in another topic.

English paper piecing

English paper piecing

English paper piecing is a hand sewing technique, used to maximize accuracy when piecing complex angles together. A paper shape is cut with the exact dimensions of the desired piece. Fabric is then basted to the paper shape. Adjacent units are then placed face to face and the seam is whip stitched together. When a given piece is completely surrounded by all the adjacent shapes, the basting thread is cut, and the basting and the paper shape are removed.

Foundation piecing
Foundation piecing is a sewing technique that allows maximum stability of the work as the piecing is created, minimizing the distorting effect of working with slender pieces or bias cut pieces. In the most basic form, a piece of paper is cut the size of the desired block. For utility quilts, a sheet of newspaper was used. In modern foundation piecing, an elaborate design featuring pointed shapes, is used. A strip of fabric or a fabric scrap is sewn by machine to the foundation. The fabric is flipped back, and pressed. The next piece of fabric is sewn through the initial piece and paper. Subsequent pieces are added sequentially. The block may be trimmed, flush with the border of the foundation. After the blocks are sewn together, the paper is removed, unless the foundation is an acid-free material.


United States

Amish quilts are reflections of the Amish way of life. As a part of their religious commitment, Amish people have chosen to reject "worldly" elements in their dress and lifestyle, and their quilts historically reflected this. Traditionally, they typically used only solid colours in their clothing and the quilts they intend for their own use, in community-sanctioned colours and styles. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, early Amish quilts were typically made of solid-coloured, light weight wool fabric, off the same bolts of fabric used for family clothing items, while in many midwestern communities cotton predominated. Although classic Amish quilts appear austere from a distance, the craftsmanship is often of the highest quality and feature lush quilting patterns that contrast with the plain background. Antique Amish quilts are among the most highly prized among collectors and quilting enthusiasts. The quilts created by Amish people in the early period reflect their strong, internal cultural influences, that were to some degree separate from the non-Amish culture around them. The colour combinations can help experts determine the community in which the quilt was produced. Many consider these quilts the "art" of the Amish. Since the 1970s, Amish quiltmakers have made quilts for the consumer market, with quilt cottage industries and retail shops popping up in Amish settlements across North America.

Baltimore album
Baltimore album quilts originated in the region around Baltimore, Maryland in the 1840s, where a unique and highly developed appliqué style of quilting briefly flourished. The quilts are created as album quilts, which are collections of appliquéd blocks, each with a different design. The designs often feature floral patterns, but many other motifs are used, as well. Baskets of flowers, wreaths, buildings, books, and birds were common motifs. Designs were often highly detailed, and displayed the quiltmaker's skill. New dying techniques were available, allowing new, bold colours which the quilters used enthusiastically. New techniques with printing on the fabrics also allowed shaded portions of fabric to heighten the three-dimensional effect of the designs. The background fabric is typically white or off-white, allowing maximal contrast to the delicate designs. India ink allowed handwritten accents, and allowed the blocks to be signed. Some of these quilts were created by professional quilters, and patrons could commission quilts made of new blocks, or select blocks that were already available for sale. There has been a resurgence of quilting in the Baltimore style, with many of the modern quilts experimenting with bending some of the old rules.

Crazy quilts
Crazy quilts were named because their pieces are not regular, and are scattered across the top of the quilt like "crazed" (cracked or crackled) pottery glazing. They were very refined, luxury items, not made randomly. Geometric pieces of rich fabrics were sewn together, and highly decorative embroidery was added. Such quilts were often effectively samplers of embroidery stitches and techniques, displaying the development of needle skills of those in the well-to-do late 19th-century home. They were show pieces, not used for warmth, but for late Victorian display. The luxury fabrics used precluded frequent washing. They often took years to complete. Fabrics used included silks, wools, velvet, linen, and cotton. Mixtures of fabric textures, such as a smooth silk next to a textured brocade or velvet, were embraced. Designs were applied to the surface, and other elements such as ribbons, lace, and decorative cording were used exuberantly. Names and dates were often part of the design, and commemorated important events or associations of the maker. Politics were included in some, with printed campaign handkerchiefs and other pre-printed textiles (such as advertising silks) often included to declare the maker's sentiments.


Harriet Powers' 1898 bible quilt

By the time that early African American quilting became a tradition in and of itself, it was already a combination of textile traditions from the prominent influences of four civilizations of Central and West Africa: the Mande-speaking peoples, the Yoruba and Fon peoples, the Ejagham peoples, and the Kongo peoples. As slaves, their textiles were traded heavily throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and the Southern United States, the traditions of each distinct region became intermixed. Originally, most of the textiles were made by men. Yet when slaves were brought to the United States their work was divided according to Western patriarchal standards and women took over the tradition. However, this strong tradition of weaving left a visible mark on African American quilting. The use of strips, reminiscent of the strips of reed and fabric used in men's traditional weave, are used in fabric quilting. A break in a pattern symbolized a rebirth in the ancestral power of the creator or wearer. And a break in a pattern also helped keep evil spirits away. Evil is believed to travel in straight lines and a break in a pattern or line confuses the spirits and slows them down. This tradition is highly recognizable in African American improvisation of European American patterns. The traditions of improvisation and multiple patterning also protect the quilter from anyone copying their quilts. These traditions allow for a strong sense of ownership and creativity.

Anna Williams (American, born 1927). Quilt, 1995. Cotton, synthetics Brooklyn Museum

In the 1980s, concurrent with the boom in art quilting in America, new attention was brought to African-American traditions and innovations, from opposing points of view, one validating the practices of rural Southern African-American quilters and another asserting that there was no one style but rather the same individualization found among white quilters. John Vlach in a 1976 exhibition and Maude Wahlman, co-organizing a 1979 exhibition, cited the use of strips, high-contrast colours, large design elements and multiple patterns as characteristic and compared them to rhythms in black music. Building on the relationship between quilting and musical performance, African American quilter Gwendolyn Ann Magee created a twelve piece exhibition based on the lyrics of James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing", commonly known as the "Negro National Anthem." Cuesta Benberry, a quilt historian with a special interest in African-American works, in 1992 published Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts and organized an exhibition documenting the contributions of black quilters to mainstream American quilting. Eli Leon, a collector of African-American quilts, organized a traveling exhibition in 1987 that introduced both historic and current quilters, some loosely following patterns and others improvising, such as Rosie Lee Tompkins. He argued for the creativity of the "irregular" quilt, saying these quilters saw the quilt block as 'an invitation to variation' and felt that measuring 'takes the heart outa things.'  At the same time, the Williams College Museum of Art was circulating Stitching Memories: African-American Story Quilts featuring a different approach to quilts, including most prominently Faith Ringgold. However, it was not until 2002, when the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, organized The Quilts of Gee's Bend, an exhibition that appeared in major museums around the country, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, that art critics unknowingly adopted Leon's assertions.

Pictorial quilts
Pictorial Quilts are interesting in that they often contain one of a kind patterns and imagery. Instead of bringing together fabric in an abstract or patterned design, they use pieces of fabric to create objects on the quilt, resulting in an picture-based quilt. They were often made collaboratively as a fundraising effort. However, some Pictorial Quilts were individually created and tell a narrative through the images on the quilt. Some Pictorial Quilts consist of many squares, sometimes made by multiple people, while others have imagery that utilizes the entirety of quilt. Pictorial Quilts were created both in the United States, as well as England and Ireland, beginning as early as 1795.

American. Pictorial Quilt, ca. 1840. Cotton, cotton thread. Brooklyn Museum

Pictorial Quilt, 1795. Linen, multicoloured thread. Brooklyn Museum

Hawaiian quilts are whole-cloth (not pieced) quilts, featuring large-scale symmetrical appliqué in solid colours on a solid colour (usually white) background fabric. Traditionally, the quilter would fold a square piece of fabric into quarters or eighths and then cut out a border design, followed by a centre design. The cutouts would then be appliquéd onto a contrasting background fabric. The centre and border designs were typically inspired by local flora, and often had rich personal associations for the creator, with deep cultural resonances. The most common colour for the appliquéd design was red, due to the wide availability of Turkey-red fabric. Some of these textiles were not in fact quilted, ultimately, but were used as decorative coverings without the heavier batting that was not needed in a tropical climate. Multiple colours were added over time, as the tradition developed. So called "echo quilting", where a quilted outline of the appliqué pattern is repeated like ripples out to the edge of the quilt, is the most common quilting pattern employed on Hawaiian-style quilts. Beautiful examples are held in the collection of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Hawaiian quilt.

Native American star quilts
Star Quilts are a Native American form of quilting arising among native women in the late 19th century as communities adjusted to the difficulties of reservation life and cultural disruption. They are made by many tribes, but came to be especially associated with Plains tribes, including the Lakota. While star patterns existed in earlier European-American forms of quilting, they came to take on special significance for many native artisans. Star quilts are more than an art form—rather, they express important cultural and spiritual values of the native women who make them, and continue to have uses in ceremonies and for marking important points in a person's life—from curing or yuwipi ceremonies to memorials. Anthropologists (such as Bea Medicine) have documented important social and cultural connections between quilting and earlier important pre-reservation crafting traditions such as women's quill-working societies and other crafting traditions that were difficult to sustain after hunting and off-reservation travel was restricted by the US government. Star quilts have also become a source of income for many Native American women, while retaining spiritual and cultural importance to their makers.

Created by the Native Americans of southern Florida, Seminole strip piecing is based on a simple form of decorative patchwork. Seminole strip piecing has uses in quilts, wall hangings, and traditional clothing. Seminole patchwork is created by joining a series of horizontal strips, each of which is added to produce repetitive geometric designs.

Seminole patchwork shawl made by Susie Cypress from Big Cypress Indian Reservation, ca. 1980s


Square-in-a-square quilt block pattern

American. Double Wedding Ring Quilt, ca. 1930. Cotton. Brooklyn Museum

There are many traditional block designs, and techniques that have been named. Log cabin quilts are pieced quilts featuring blocks made of strips of fabric typically encircling a small centred square (traditionally a red square, symbolizing the hearth of the home), with light strips forming half the square and dark strips on the other side. Dramatic contrast effects with light and dark fabrics are created by various layouts of the blocks when forming a quilt top. There are named variations, based on the placement of log cabin blocks. These include Sunshine and Shadow, Straight Furrows, Streak of Lightning, and Barn Raising. Nine Patch blocks are often the first blocks a child is taught to make. The block consists of three rows of three squares. A checkerboard effect with alternating dark and light squares is most commonly used. The Double Wedding Ring pattern first came to prominence during the Great Depression. The design consists of interlocking circles, pieced with small arcs of fabrics. The finished quilts are often given to commemorate marriages.

Kitchen kaleidoscope quilt block example.

Cathedral Windows is a block type that uses reverse appliqué using large amounts of folded muslin, and features modular blocks of an interlocking circular design that frame small squares or diamonds of colourful light-weight cotton. The volume of fabric is high, and the tops are heavy. Because of the weight and the insulating value of the base fabric, these tops often are assembled without batting (thus need no quilting stitches) and sometimes have no backing. Such a quilt may be called a "counterpane" and may serve mainly as a decorative "bedspread".

European quilts
The history of quilting in Europe goes back at least to Medieval times. Quilting was done not only for traditional bedding but for warm clothing. Clothing quilted with fancy fabrics and threads was often a sign of nobility.

British quilts
Henry VIII of England's household inventories record dozens of "quyltes" and "coverpointes" among the bed linen, including a green silk one for his first wedding to Catherine of Aragon quilted with metal threads, linen-backed, and worked with roses and pomegranates.

Otherwise known as Durham quilts, North Country quilts have a long history in north-east England, dating back to the Industrial Revolution and beyond. North Country quilts are often "whole-cloth" quilts, that emphasize the quilting. Some are made of sateen fabrics, which further heighten the effect of the quilting.

From the late 18th to the early 20th century the Lancashire cotton industry produced quilts using a mechanised technique of weaving double cloth with an enclosed heavy cording weft, imitating the corded Provençal quilts made in Marseilles.

Italian quilts
Quilting was particularly common in Italy during the Renaissance. One particularly famous surviving example, now in two parts, is the 1360-1400 Tristan Quilt, a Sicilian quilted linen textile representing scenes from the story of Tristan and Isolde and housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum and in the Bargello in Florence.

Provençal quilts

Detail of a white cotton Provençal, or boutis, quilting

Provençal quilts, now often referred to as "boutis" (the Provençal word meaning "stuffing"), are wholecloth quilts traditionally made in the South of France since the 17th century. Two layers of fabric are quilted together with stuffing sandwiched between sections of the design, creating a raised effect. The three main forms of the Provençal quilt are matelassage (a double-layered wholecloth quilt with wadding sandwiched between), corded quilting or piqûre de Marseille (also known as Marseilles work or piqué marseillais), and boutis. These terms are often debated and confused, but are all forms of stuffed quilting associated with the region.

Other nations


Mola textiles

Mola textiles are a distinct tradition, created by the Kuna people of Panama and Colombia. They are famous for bright colours, and reverse appliqué techniques, creating designs with strong cultural and spiritual importance within the indigenous culture. Forms of animals, humans, or mythological figures are featured, with strong geometric designs in the voids around the main image. These textiles are not traditionally used as bedding, but use techniques common to the larger international quilting tradition. Molas have been very influential on modern quilting design.

In China

A lattice of thread is being created atop a layer of batting.

Throughout China, a simple method of producing quilts is employed. It involves setting up a temporary site. A frame is assembled within which a lattice work of cotton thread is made. Cotton batting, either new or retrieved from discarded quilts, is prepared in a mobile carding machine. The mechanism of the carding machine is powered by a small, petrol motor. The batting is then added, layer by layer, to the area within the frame. Between each layer, a new lattice of thread is created with a wooden disk used to tamp down the layer.

Sashiko (literally "little stabs") is a Japanese tradition that evolved over time from a simple technique for re-enforcing fabric made for heavy use in fishing villages. A tradition of decorative stitches, with no overlap of any two stitches. Piecing is not part of the tradition, but the focus is on heavy cotton thread work with large, even stitches, on the base fabric. Deep blue indigo-dyed fabric, with white stitches is the most traditional form, but inverse work with blue on white are seen. Traditional medallion designs, tessellated and geometric designs are most often used.

Bangladeshi quilts

Contemporary Bangladeshi Quilt (Kantha)

Bangladeshi quilts, known as Kantha, are not pieced together. Rather, they are two to three pieces of cloth. They are made out of worn out clothes (saris) and are mainly used for bedding, as a blanket. They may be used as a decorative piece as well. They are made by women mainly in the Monsoon season before winter.

Tivaevae Cook Island quilts
Tivaevae are quilts made by Cook Island women for ceremonial occasions. Quilting is thought to have been imported to the Islands by missionaries. The quilts are highly prized and are given as gifts with other finely made works on important occasions such as weddings and christenings.

Ralli quilts
Ralli quilts are traditional quilts made in Pakistan and India. Ralli quilts are also called rilli quilts. Handmade ralli quilts are used as blankets and bedspreads; they combine patchwork, appliqué, and embroidery. Parents present rallis to their daughters on their wedding day as a dowry. The another kind of ralli quilt is sami ralli, used by the samis, jogis, and gypsies. This type of ralli quilt is popular due to the many colours and the extensive hand-stitching employed in its construction.

Women in the Indus Region of the Indian subcontinent make beautiful quilts with bright colours and bold patterns. The quilts are called “Ralli” (or rilli, rilly, rallee or rehli) derived from the local word ralanna meaning to mix or connect. Rallis are made in the southern provinces of Pakistan including Sindh, Baluchistan and in the Cholistan desert on the southern border of Punjab as well as in the adjoining states of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. Muslim and Hindu women from a variety of tribes and castes in towns, villages and also nomadic settings make rallis. Quilt making is an old tradition in the region perhaps dating back to the fourth millennium BC judging by similar patterns found on ancient pottery.

Rallis are commonly used as a covering for wooden sleeping cots, as a floor covering, storage bag, or padding for workers or animals. In the villages, ralli quilts are an important part of a girl’s dowry. Owning many ralli quilts is a measure of wealth.

Rallis are made from scraps of cotton fabric dyed to the desired colour. The most common colours are white, black, red and yellow or orange with green, dark blue or purple. For the bottoms of the rallis, the women use old pieces of tie-dye, ajrak or other shawl fabric. Ralli quilts have a few layers of worn fabric or cotton fibres between the top and bottom layers. The layers are held together by thick coloured thread stitched in straight lines. The women sit on the ground and do not use a quilting frame.

The number of patterns used on ralli quilts seems to be almost endless, as there is much individual expression and spontaneity in colour within the traditional patterns. The three basic styles of rallis are:

1) patchwork made from pieces of cloth torn into squares and triangles and then stitched together, 2) appliqué made from intricate cut out patterns in a variety of shapes and 3) embroidered quilts where the embroidery stitches form patterns on solid coloured fabric.

A distinguishing feature of ralli patterning in patchwork and appliqué quilts is the diagonal placement of similar blocks as well as a variety of embellishments including mirrors, tassels, shells and embroidery.

Egyptian khayamiya
Khayamiya is a form of suspended tent decoration or portable textile screen used across North Africa and the Middle East. It is an art form distinctive to Egypt, where they are still sewn by hand in the 'Street of the Tentmakers' (Sharia Khayamiya) in Cairo. Whilst Khayamiya resemble quilts, they typically possess a heavy back layer and fine top layer in appliqué, without a central insulating layer.


Autograph quilts
There are two distinct kinds of autograph quilts. Single pattern quilts are often referred to as "friendship quilts" while the more formal quilts made of different blocks are called "sampler album quilts".

Although both carried on the same tradition of signed remembrances, they are different in how they were created. Sampler album quilts were composed of several unique intricately pieced or appliquéd blocks. A friendship quilt was usually made of several blocks from the same pattern. These blocks could be made quickly (by each friend involved in the project), from fabric scraps available at her home.

In her Clues in the Needlework newsletter, Barbara Brackman wrote, "Many of the blocks in the early album quilts made between 1840 and 1860 featured elaborate ink signatures and small drawings and verses. By the time of the Civil War, album quilt inscriptions had become shorter and were more likely to include only the block maker's name, and perhaps his or her hometown or date."

Most 19th-century signatures were written with indelible ink, while in the 20th century they were often embroidered. Occasionally, one person chosen for her beautiful handwriting would inscribe all the signatures. Some regional signature quilts were inscribed in the fraktur calligraphy used to document important events by the Pennsylvania Germans.

A quillow is a quilt with an attached pocket into which the whole blanket can be folded, thus making a pillow. Once folded into the pocket, it can be used as a cushion during the day and unfolded into a blanket at night.

T-shirt quilt
A T-shirt quilt is a quilt made out of T-shirts. Often seen as a keepsake item and made from memorable T-shirts, sweatshirts or other clothing. They are popular graduation gifts.


Amongst famous quilts in history is the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was begun in San Francisco in 1987, and is cared for by The NAMES Project Foundation. Portions of it are periodically displayed in various arranged locations. Panels are made to memorialize a person lost to HIV, and each block is 3 feet by 6 feet. Many of the blocks are not made by traditional quilters, and amateur creators may lack technical skill, but their blocks speak directly to the love and loss they have experienced. The blocks are not in fact "quilted", in that there is no stitching holding together batting and backing layers. Exuberant designs, with personal objects applied, are seen, next to restrained and elegant designs. Each block is very personal, and they form a deeply moving sight when combined by the dozens and the hundreds. The "quilt" as a whole is still under construction, although the entire quilt is so large now that it cannot be assembled in complete form in any one location.

Beginning with the Whitney Museum of American Art's 1971 exhibit, Abstract Design in American Quilts, quilts have frequently appeared on museum and gallery walls. The exhibit displayed quilts like paintings on its gallery walls, which has since become a standard way to exhibit quilts. The Whitney exhibit helped shift the perception of quilts from solely a domestic craft object, to art objects, increasing art world interest in them.

The Museum of the American Quilter's Society (also known as the National Quilt Museum) is located in Paducah, Kentucky. The museum houses a large collection of quilts, most of which are winning entries from the annual American Quilter's Society festival and quilt competition held in April. The museum also houses other exhibits of quilt collections, both historic and modern.

In 2010, the world renowned Victoria and Albert Museum put on a comprehensive display of quilts from 1700 to 2010, while in 2009, the American Folk Art Museum in New York put on an exhibition of the work of kaleidoscope quilt maker Paula Nadelstern, marking the first time that museum has ever offered a solo show to a contemporary quilt artist.

Many historic quilts can be seen in Bath at the American Museum in Britain, and Beamish Museum preserves examples of the North East England quiltmaking tradition.

The largest known public collection of quilts is housed at the International Quilt Study Centre at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Examples of Tivaevae and other quilts can be found in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in California also displays traditional and modern quilts. There is free admission to the museum on the first Friday of every month, as part of the San Jose Art Walk.

The New England Quilt Museum is located in Lowell, Massachusetts.

The Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum is located in Golden, Colorado.

Numerous Hawaiian-style quilts can be seen at Bishop Museum, in Honolulu, Hawai’i.

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