From homemade to mass produced, quilts cover the globe providing warmth, comfort, security and visual beauty everywhere. Surprisingly, not everyone knows what makes a quilt a quilt, or what it is used for aside from being just another blanket on the bed. The versatility of quilts extends beyond bed coverings and into craft projects, museum-quality textile arts and a billion-dollar industry.
For centuries quilts have been made primarily by women to keep their families warm during cold winter nights. At quilting bees, women had an opportunity to leave the house for a day and quilt as a form of social gathering, often completing a quilt in one or two days. The quilts could be for general use or set aside for a daughter's future wedding. Quilting still retains some of its solitary aspects, but has largely enjoyed a revival as the necessity of the past is now considered a hobby. However, the use of a quilt as an excuse for socialization has not ceased.
Quilts can vary in size, color, shape and even the type of fabric used, but one thing remains consistent with quilting: A quilt uses three layers: a top, batting, and backing, and is held together with stitching. Whether by hand or machine, the layers are stitched together to provide a secondary design and texture to the quilt either echoing or complimenting what the piecing suggests, or the quilting pattern may contrast the style of piecing. A top piece with only straight lines may be quilted with straight lines, or the quilter may choose to fill the quilt with curves and circles to soften the look of the quilt. Between piecing and quilting, a quilt becomes a work of art.
The size of a quilt can change considerably from piece to piece. A miniature quilt can be as tiny as 10 inches by 10 inches while a king size quilt can be made, using basically the same pattern as the miniature, and measure up to 120 by 120 inches. While a full or queen size quilt is common for bedding, several quilters enjoy the ease and speed of making wall hangings which can vary in size depending on the pattern. While some quilters will swear by using nothing but quilting quality 100 percent cotton, others express themselves with silks and other varieties of fabric to enhance the texture of the fabrics.
Quilts can be used for anything from bed covering to wall decorations. Often old quilts are used to make doll clothing or reupholster furniture. The versatility of quilts also lends itself to being turned into purses, table runners, and framed artwork. The value of a quilt is not only measured in beauty, but also craftsmanship, difficulty of the pattern, design and skill level of the quilting, as well as the sentimental value a maker feels when looking at their finished product. While there are quilts made solely to cover a bed and provide warmth, the uses for quilts are virtually unlimited.
Part of the joy of quilts is in the process of creating a quilt as much as it is in owning them or using one for a picnic blanket. Quilters often feel a connection to the past when they work, as if they are continuing on history and pushing tradition forward. With modern fabric manufacturers, computerized sewing machines, $16,000 long arm quilting machines, and multitudes of gadgets and products to make the task easier, homemade quilts will be made for a few more centuries for whatever use the maker chooses.