Patriotic Quilts

Patriotic quilts have reflected women’s political opinions and feelings even before women achieved the right to vote. Quilts made in America reflected women’s patriotism and even though relegated to the domestic realm, they created quilts that expressed their feelings about the nation, their leaders, heroes and the events that marked history.

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Symbols used in quilts that express patriotic feelings have evolved and changed through the centuries, reflecting the changes in events and aesthetics that shaped the American nation. Though patriotic quilts have been made during the entire span of time since the country was a colony, patriotic quilt making peaks during times of political change or upheaval, war, or national mourning. From the Revolutionary War to the events of September 11th 2001, quilts have been made that recall those moments. Women have used their needles to stitch in quilts the history that males have shaped. Until 1920, quiltmaking was one of the few activities that not only allowed women’s creativity to flow freely but also allowed them to voice patriotic and personal feelings, until they were able to do so by casting a ballot or running for political office.

From a Colony to a Nation

The eagle is probably the one most used patriotic symbol on quilts of the period during the period of time spanning between the Colonial years and the start of the Civil War. A committee chose the bald eagle as the principal motif in patrioticthe United States Great Seal (a national emblem for the country). This committee started working on the seal the day when independence from Britain was declared by the thirteen states, on July 4th 1776. It took years for the Great Seal to be designed, and the eagle started showing up as an appliqué motif on quilts from this period. The eagle holds symbols of peace and war on its claws – an olive branch and arrows-. The eagle was not only a patriotic appliqué motif, but also was printed on fabric and woven in coverlets.

As the years go by, more printed fabric appears with eagles and political figures’ faces, like George Washington, first president of the nation. Hankerchiefs about thirty inches square are used as part of quilts, with political motifs printed on them. Toile fabric is also produced for quilt making and other household linen featuring presidents and symbols of patriotic feeling. This fabric finds its way into quilts of the period as well.
Patriotic sentiment also appears in quilt making relating to quilt block names in the years between the Declaration of Independence and the Civil War. Women name quilt blocks after political events, political parties, or president. Thus, quilt blocks with names like Whig’s Defeat (made to commemorate the narrow margin defeat of Henry Clay from the Whig Party in 1844), Burgoyne Surrounded (General Burgoyne was surrounded and defeated in battle in 1777). The American flag also starts appearing in quilts of this period as part of patriotic quilts.

The War Between the States

A time of political turmoil and heavy grief for women all over the country, many women use their needle at this time to both help heal their pain when faced with the loss of family and friend. Also, in their own way, they spoke their patrioticopinion when they couldn’t do it any other way. Patriotic feelings arise in both sides of the conflict and quilts are made in both the North and the South with different symbols. In both sides, the flags appear in quilts. Northern quilts depict the Stars and Stripes, while southern quilts have thirteen stars. A patriotic symbol such as the eagle appears in quilts made in the North, but in the South, the pelican, Louisiana’s state bird is the chosen symbol. During this time, quilts made for soldiers also reflect the patriotic feeling of women and often times, quilts made for relief agencies include sentiments written by women to encourage the men. Appliqued quilts of the time also include figures of soldiers going to battle, as in Baltimore style quilts with blocks depicting soldiers.

The Centennial Celebration

When the nation celebrated its first hundred anniversary, patriotic and nostalgic feelings emerge again, and women turn back to the inspiration of their foremothers to make quilts that, once again include eagle and flags. In the period between 1876 and the turn of the century, a pattern including four eagles in a circle becomes popular for appliqué. The Centennial Exposition of Philadelphia and the craze for oriental style born there mix with the patriotic in crazy quilts that include flags or use tobacco silks with patriotic motifs.

The Twentieth Century

Patriotic quilts continue being made during the century, although there is a sharp decline during and after the years patrioticof World War II, since women have to become part of the workforce and therefore, they have less time to stitch. And even though women achieve the right to vote in the USA in 1919 when Congress passes the Nineteenth Amendment, and it is finally ratified in 1920, they continue making quilts to reflect their patriotic feeling. Red, white and blue quilts are popular during the entire century, at first maybe because aside from the fact the colors appear in the USA flag, these colors are fast and durable. At the turn from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, the sad events that took place on September 11th 2001 spurned women to once again pick up their needles to turn disbelief, grief and patriotic sentiments into quilts. A memorial project was born, America 9/11 Memorial Quilt Project. During the next five years, quilts were made and in 2006, these quilts were dedicated to the memory of those affected by the events and are now part of the Memorial Museum in New York City.

 

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