Amish Cross within a Cross design
Victorian crazy quilt

The quilting textile traditions of European American quilts come from a far less documented and concrete tradition. The first quilting began in order to add weight and warmth to the underclothing for armor. Soon followed the tradition of crazy quilting in the Victorian Age. And while this tradition caught on in Europe, the tradition that began in the colonies of America was based more on utility than on display. Wives and mothers needed to cover their families in cold weather and milled and woven cloth was expensive and an ocean's distance away. Often quilts were used to record history when paper or ink was unavailable. And often they were made as gifts or in celebration of wedding, birth, or even death. One strong tradition in European American quilting is the influence of the Amish. Using simple design and pattern, the Amish created a strong tradition, especially in the Northern colonies, with strict discipline and pattern.


Probably the strongest reason for the rise of quilt making in the American colonies is utility. Women needed to be able to use available materials, like the quilt pictured here made out of feed sacks, in order to save scarce money. Quilts also served as a source of income for many women on the frontier. Single men often purchased quilts, as did affluent women for the decoration of their homes and beds.


Brought over from Europe, this traditional non-pattern allowed woman to use every last scrap of material left over from larger projects. Improvisation and combination of contrasting colors is the most striking feature of the crazy quilt.


Often quilts were made in order to record a specific event or celebration -- the birth of a child, a wedding, a festival, an anniversary. Here is a contemporary quilt that records the celebration of the American Bicentennial.


Very popular in quilting tradition are the quilting circles and bees that brought women together to share quilting expertise. Women often traveled for miles to reach friends who were sewing the back on a quilt and needed an extra hand. Displayed on the right is a Friendship Cross within a Cross quilt that was made by an Amish woman as a symbol of friendship for a close relative. Displayed on the left is a sampler quilt. To create a Sampler, each quilter in a group would recreate the same square many times over and each member of the group would swap squares. Then each member could create her own quilt with the gifts of her quilting circle. Throughout quilting tradition women coming together to share patterns and extra hands is a common theme.


Applique is used in the European Tradition often to apply expensive lace and other fabric ornamentation from Europe or from other exotic or important locations or events. The quilt displayed here was made by stenciling the patterns onto already quilted fabric and then re-stiching the pieces onto plain cotton fabric. Applique, a highly decorative form of quilting, is often used in quilts used for wall hangings as seen in the quilt to the left.


The quilt on the right is titled Whig Rose (1870). It is symbolic of the political party to whom its creator probably belonged. The quilt on the left is an Amish Diamond Bridal quilt. The symbol of the diamond is representative of the four seasons. These two examples represent only a couple of the many symbols used in European Quilting Tradition. There were no singly important symbols, they often depended on region and specific religion. Common symbols included the heart, which is used for love. Roses are symbols of love, purity, and happiness. The pineapple is used for hospitality, the pomegranate for fruitfulness.

Return to Table of Contents