In frontier times, quilts were a vital part of any household. A single bed might have multiple quilts to keep you warm until the fire was rekindled in the morning or several could be used as a pallet on the floor for extra guests or children. But quilts represent so much more than warmth and comfort. Quilts tell stories, represent history and tradition, express emotion from love to sorrow and sew together multiple generations.
Beyond bedding, quilts found function in everyday life as cushions for bumpy rides in wagons, for safely packing heirloom china, for creating a small measure of privacy in one-room cabins by hanging them from the ceiling and for covering cracks to keep out the drafty winter winds and snow.
Going west was a dangerous proposition for our ancestors. Many travelers along rutted wagon roads succumbed to illness or exposure and because proper coffins were not available, wrapping a person in a quilt for burial gave the family some solace knowing that their loved one was surrounded by the comfort of a family quilt before forging ahead.
While most quilts were hand sewn from bits of fabric and stuffed with cotton or cloth, they also allowed for artistic creativity. All of the patterns had names, sometimes many names, such as the basic design of Jacob’s Ladder. It was also known as Underground Railroad, The Road to California, Off to San Francisco, Stepping stones and the Trail of the Covered Wagon…all of which speak to moving…going west. We’ll call it the Sisterhood of the traveling quilt!
In much of the United States quilt-making began to die out as cheap blankets and warmer homes were built, but in Appalachia those quilt makers never stopped.
While they didn’t need the quilts for warmth anymore, ladies continued the activity because they enjoyed the process. Friends would stop over and other members of the family would join in. A busy quilt frame was a great opportunity for socializing, sharing hopes and worries, and debating topics of the day…all while many hands were stitching away.
Appalachian folks were determined to preserve this link with their pioneer past…handmade with love for the people they love. It doesn’t get any better than that!
If you’d like to hear the audio version of this podcast, please click the link below and as always thanks for liking, commenting and sharing!