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The history of quilting

October 27, 2009
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer

Quilters from throughout the region descended on Estherville Saturday to hear a nationally recognized quilting historian tell how the once-humble quilt has now taken on a role as treasured heirloom.

Hosted by the NorthStar Quilters of Estherville, Darlene Zimmerman of Minnesota told how quilts first came into being and why they're still with us today.

"It's good to know what came before the Thirties in order to know what makes the Thirties so special," Zimmerman said of the historical roots behind Depression-era quilting.

Zimmerman said 200 years ago there was little quilting since people had to actually raise their fabric - primarily wool. That meant all of a woman's free time was spent making fabric.

It wasn't until about 1820 - the time the Industrial Revolution came to the U.S. - that fabric became available. Massachusetts fabric mills turned out acres and acres of fabric, "a huge time-saver for the housewife," Zimmerman said.

What are household names today were behind the beginning of quilting.

Singer was credited with the first production-line sewing machines about the time of the Civil War. He even came up with something popular today - the installment plan. He sent salesmen out who would ask local preachers' wives to demonstrate the machines, something that easily convinced the rest of the women in town.

Clark of Coates 'n Clark came came up with the first thread safe to use on sewing machines. Then in the 1870s Ebeneezer Butterick invented tissue paper clothing patterns

Zimmerman displayed a number of quilting patterns, beginning with the Civil War era and continuing to the present day.

While quilts were at their nadir from the 1880s and into the 20th century, they found new life in the 1930s

Today, quilting's tremendous popularity continues from that time of necessity when women gathered scraps of cloth and stitched them into patterns - Uncle Henry's Civil War uniform, Aunt Dolly's wedding dress, Grandpa Elmer's coveralls. The cloth and patterns may be purchased today, but no doubt the pride that goes into making these symbols of our heritage remains the same.



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