Quilting Superstition and Lore 

Quilting superstitions are closely tied to the act of making quilts. As with many other activities that started centuries ago and is so closely tied to human feelings and special occasions, these superstitions have been passed down the generations as much as the patterns and techniques, from mother to daughter, within families and communities.

Quilting was a part of life for many women. Not every woman had to quilt, that is probably the first myth of lore that has been passed down to our days. Quilts were not the only means to keep a family warm at night. Coverlets and blankets were woven, and though scraps were saved, not every scrap found its way to a quilt. Quilts are indeed laborious, use up a lot of resources (fabric, batting, thread and backing) and in some cases, blankets were probably a cheaper alternative.

Superstitions Regarding Religion

Superstitions regarding making quilts are tied to religion, in some cases. A quilt should never be started on a Friday, as this day was “the devil’s day”, so any project started on a Friday was likely never to be finished. This superstition has a caveat, as there was one “good Friday” in the calendar, the previous to Easter Sunday, in which the superstition had no hold on the maker.
There should be no quilting done on Sunday, as this is the day of rest for Christians. Obviously, no work should be superstitionaccomplished on the Sabbath, and quilting was no exception. Curious penalties are associated to this superstition, such as any stitching done on this day needed to be ripped out with the sewer’s teeth only. And on the other hand, there is another superstition that reminds us that if we use our teeth to cut thread, they will rot and fall off. Apparently, the penalty for breaking the day of rest was double then!

Another very well known superstitious custom associated to quilting is the idea that since only God can create perfection, quilts should include an intentional mistake. It is hard to imagine women including mistakes in some of the masterpiece like quilts, and one can’t help but wonder if this superstition came about as a practical way to avoid ripping out unintentional mistakes.

Superstitions and Brides

Many superstitions have to do with brides and quiltmaking. As a woman was supposed to have a “hope chest” full of household linen to help her be prepared for the needs of her household for a few years until she had daughters old enough to sew and help. Girls with the help of family members and friends would prepare a “bakers’ dozen” quilts. The last of these was the bridal quilt, which was not supposed to be started until the bride was engaged to be married. This quilt was the one surrounded by the most superstitions. Hearts should not be used as design elements in any of the other quilts in the hope chest, but could be stitched in the bridal quilt, to be used on the first wedding night. Using the brand new quilt on the wedding night for the first time would ensure that the dreams dreamed on that night would come true for the newlywed couple.

A girl who had no bridal quilt by the time she turned twenty-one, would never marry. This superstition makes sense, superstitionas by twenty-one, most women were married or engaged. And if a girl started a quilt for her hope chest and didn’t finish it, she would never be married. One can imagine that this particular superstition would ensure that every quilt that was started was also finished!
Care should be taken that when a bridal quilt included a border, should have no breaks in the design. A broken border, whether a vine or ribbon would lead to either a broken marriage or a shortened life, in general.

The bridal quilt, though pieced by the intended bride would be quilted at a party by her family and friends. An unmarried female should never do the finishing stitches on this quilt, for superstition has it that she should never be married. Once the quilt was finished, lore has it that the unmarried girls in the party would hold the quilt by the edges and a cat would be thrown on the quilt. The closest girl to the spot where the cat would jump down would be the next to be married. Also, if the quilt were wrapped around an unmarried girl, she would be married within a year.

Superstition and Quilt Blocks

Superstitions regarding the “freedom quilt” made for males when they turned twenty-one and became independent superstitionfrom their parents are also known. Female family members made young men a quilt to mark this occasion, but the pattern for this quilt had to be chosen with care. The “Wandering Foot” block pattern was deemed to be a bad luck one. If a young male was given a quilt made with this pattern, he would move away. Perhaps this was what caused the name of this block to be changed to “Turkey Tracks” and this way, the superstition could be avoided.

Not really superstition, but rather part of quilting folklore and a subject that has been argued by quilt historians is that of quilts being used as signals in the Underground Railroad. This myth was fueled by the publication of a book on the subject during the latter part of the twentieth century and has been debunked for the most part by quilt scholars and historians. In this bit of quilt lore, certain colors or patterns used on quilts that were hung in clotheslines in “safe houses” were signals to indicate danger or safety or the need to move on.

As time goes on, it is likely that new superstitions are being created when we quilt.


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