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Quilting in the Old North State: A New North Carolina History in NCpedia

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Quilting in the Old North State: A New North Carolina History in NCpedia

By Kelly Agan, North Carolina Government & Heritage Library

This week, as we near the end of Women’s History Month and National Quilt Month, NCpedia published a seven-part history of quilting in North Carolina, with many, many thanks to Diana Bell-Kite, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, who took time to research, write, and share this history with us.  This contribution filled an important space in NCpedia’s coverage of the state’s history and it coincided, serendipitously, with the tapestry theme of Women’s History Month: Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives. Whether you’re interested in quilting or you want to learn more about material culture and social history from the 18th to the 21st century, please visit this content.  And we’ve added numerous images of quilts from the Museum’s collections.

Funeral Ribbon Quilt, Lee Co., NC, 1958

Funeral Ribbon Quilt, Lee Co., NC, 1958, from the NC Museum of History

First a little about National Quilt Day and Month. National Quilt Day appears to have grown out of an event called “Quilters’ Day Out”, originated by the Kentucky Heritage Quilt Society and celebrated on the 3rd Saturday of March in 1989.  The National Quilting Association held its annual quilt show and conference in Lincoln, Nebraska a few years later in 1991 and decided to build on the enthusiasm and interest created by the Kentucky event, establishing National Quilt Day that year.  Somewhere along the line, National Quilt Month formed as a month-long celebration.  (If you know more about the origin of these events, please let us know!)

American Tobacco Co. advertisement for "Omar" cigarettes,ca. 1918, with promotion of Navajo Blanket tobacco "silks".  From UC-San Francisco Legacy Tobacco Documents Library

American Tobacco Co. advertisement for “Omar” cigarettes, ca. 1918, with promotion of Navajo Blanket tobacco “silks”. From UC-San Francisco Legacy Tobacco Documents Library

Back to North Carolina Quilts: Through the history Bell-Kite shares, from colonial times to the 21st century, we learn that this creative form evolved from a complex tapestry of its own, involving: social class and economic resources; personal tastes, styles, creativity and technique; the growth of industry and advertising; and relationships to events and personal commemorations.

Quilts were fashioned from the most ordinary materials, including clothing worn by Civil War soldiers, feed and grain sacks, and ribbons from funeral bouquets. And in some cases, quilts were made from the most extraordinary — or unexpected — materials. For example, some quilts were made from the late 19th century into the 20th century from printed fabrics — felt, flannel or silk — included as tokens in tobacco packages.

These inserts were in thematic series, like baseball trading cards, and covered an extraordinary range of subjects from state and international flags, to Native American blankets, Oriental rugs, domestic animals, famous queens, and more. By the early 1900s, advertisements began to target women and children to promote uses of the swatches. (See image at left for an example from an American Tobacco “Omar” cigarette advertisement). While this strays a little from the topic of quilts themselves, it gives a glimpse of the social and documentary history — involving domestic culture, economy, the growth of past-times and collecting, and the growth of industry and marketing — surrounding quilting trends.

Please visit NCpedia for an in-depth tour of the history of quilting in North Carolina and share with the quilters in your lives!

A few resources on quilting in North Carolina and the U.S.:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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