What is quilting during the civil war


Civil War Quilts Period

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.” ― Robert E. Lee

What is quilting during the civil war. Well the civil war period changed the country and affected women in many ways. In a time of emotional turmoil, economic hardship and uncertainty women used their needles to provide warmth and comfort to the soldiers in different ways.

 What is quilting during the civil war

Women continued making quilts both in the North and the South. Their quilts and stories still fascinate women in the twenty first century. Reproduction Civil War quilts are being made today, as period fabric reproductions and patterns are easily available and the new cutting and sewing methods make them easy enough to tackle for an enthusiastic beginner.

The start of the Civil War in 1861 changed woman’s lives. The patriotic sentiment on both sides of the conflict at first, made women turn their needles to the cause. As men left for the front, women sent quilts and blankets with them. These quilts were often times signed by the women who contributed blocks and were also inscribed with loving, patriotic and moral sentiments. Patriotic quilts were made at first to show support for the cause, incorporating symbols such as the eagle or Stars and Stripes in the North. The pelican or the “Seven Sisters” star block that was meant to represent of the seven southern states that seceded from the Union before Lincoln became president.

As the war continued, clothing, bedding and hospital supplies ran short, and women started stitching in groups to  What is quilting soldier quiltprovide for the soldiers’ needs that neither army could supply. Relief agencies were created to make and distribute blankets, quilts, clothing and bandages. In the North, the Sanitary Commission was founded to oversee women’s volunteer efforts. Major fundraisers, called Sanitary Fairs were held as a way to raise funds for war relief. Held in large cities, the first of these took place in Chicago in 1863. These fairs raised funds from the sale of fancy objects, among them quilts. It is estimated that more than five million dollars were collected from the sale of these items, all towards soldiers’ relief.

Quilts made for soldiers were utilitarian items: narrow, to cover a soldier’s cot. Usually made with dark prints in simple patterns and with minimal quilting. Although it is estimated that women might have made anywhere between a quarter million to four hundred thousand of these quilts, only five have survived to our present day. The Sanitary Commission was disbanded in 1866.

Women in the South also provided items and had fundraiser events to help soldiers, though in a less structured way. They formed stitching societies to raise funds to purchase gunboats, needed to defend coastal towns. These elaborate “Gunboat Quilts” were raffled and enough funds were raised to purchase three of these ships. After they realized the ships were not enough to defend the coastline, the effort dwindled down and died by 1863. As the war progressed, southern women had a harder time providing for their soldiers. The economic blockade meant hardly any fabric could be purchased (in spite of cotton being produced in southern states, mills were mainly located in the northern states). Thread and needles became scarce and women had to turn to spinning, weaving and coloring their own homespun cloth and thread just to be able to supply the basic needs of their family members. Homemade thread could not stand the friction of the sewing machine, so nearly all sewing in the south had to be accomplished by hand. An interesting account of life and hardship in the southern states during the war years is the diary of Parthenia Antoinette Hague, titled “A Blockaded Family: Life in Southern Alabama During the Civil War”.

A war that was supposed to only last a few weeks continued on. The losses and emotional turmoil women suffered can be read in the pages of their diaries and their letters. Quilting probably became a distraction to relieve the stress of waiting for news of their loved ones, or a way to soothe the pain after news of death and injury reached home. An interesting example of an elaborate quilt made during the war years is the Jane Stickle quilt, property of the  What is quilting dear janeBennington Museum in Vermont. This quilt is a sampler of one hundred and sixty nine blocks with an unusual triangle border and scalloped edges. In one of the four corners pieces of the quilt, there is a inscription that gives all the clues we have about the quilt. It simply reads “In War Time, Jane Stickle 5602 pieces”. Made by Jane Stickle in 1863, little is known about the quiltmaker, but after the publication of the book “Dear Jane” by Brenda Papadakis in 1996, hundreds of quilts like it have been made by quiltmakers worldwide. From then on, the interest in reproducing civil war style quilts spurned the publication of books, patterns and lines of fabric that reproduce the fabrics of that era.

Reproduction fabrics from the civil war period are easily available in quilt stores. A web search using the terms “civil war reproduction fabric” or “civil war quilt patterns” will start you in the path of making your own reproduction quilt.

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