The idea of quilting – layers of fabric and padding held together by lines of stitching – stretches back to ancient Egypt.
It is a practical response to the need for heavier or stiffer fabrics for bedding or carpets or even protective clothing, including a faux armor for those who could not afford metal.
Quilting came to England in the Middle Ages as crusaders brought it back as undercoats for metal armor.
It was quickly adopted for warmth in jackets and over-skirts, and then for bedding.
It was at this point the more decorative elements were introduced.
It wasn’t until the idea hit the North American shores that it would find its fullest expression.
Beginning in thrift and a need for a creative outlet, women ‘recycled’ clothing, bedding and even the sacks flour and sugar came in to make colourful patchwork bedding.
For lonely women in a pioneer setting, quilt making also provided a reason to get together to share fabrics, patterns, and to hold quilting ‘bees,’ where an entire quilt might be finished in a day.
The stories for the old quilts were as complex as the patterns they displayed.
Each piece of clothing recycled told part of the story of all who had worn it – usually handed down in large families.
Old bedding that had been ‘sides to middled’ were incorporated as backings after how many had slept under them?
Men’s ties were cut up and incorporated along with shirting and suiting samples that an enterprising homemaker might obtain from a local tailor, bringing into the story the fashion of the day.
Today’s quilts are more likely to be made of fabric bought for the purpose and the fabulous art quilts don’t bring to mind either thrift or recycling.
But they still all have stories.
It may be that some of the fabric was purchased while on a special vacation or was given or left to the quilter by a friend.
The design of the art quilt is likely based on a photograph that holds a special place for the artist.
A tradition that has been maintained since our pioneer days is that of the quilting guild.
Combining artistry and companionship with charitable service to their communities, the guilds continue the practice of raffling quilts to raise money for community efforts and of making quilts to donate to the needy, veterans, and hospice patients, to name just a few.
The Ridge Meadows Quilters Guild is one such active guild which produces a raffle quilt each year – their most recent beneficiary was our Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue organization – and hundreds of ‘community quilts,’ including placemats for Meals on Wheels.
The guild puts on a show every three years and the next one is coming up on Sept. 9 and 10 at Burnett Fellowship Church, 20639 – 123rd Ave.
In addition to the main show of over 100 quilts, there will be a Fibre Arts Network show, a challenge show, a sampling of community quilts ready for donation, a merchant’s mall, and a boutique where you can do your Christmas shopping early.
– By Val Patenaude, director of the Maple Ridge Museum.