Wedding Quilts
Popular Patchwork|December 2017

Diana Woolf takes a fascinating look at the history of quilt making and the designs traditionally associated with weddings.

What could be more suitable for a Christmas wedding than a quilt decorated with heart-shaped wreaths of holly? These are the motifs that the creator of a charming piece in the American Museum in Britain has used to decorate her quilt, possibly made to celebrate her own Christmas wedding. The quilt is thoroughly seasonal and is made up of nine blocks – each worked with an appliqué pattern of holly wreaths with a pair of holly leaves in each corner. The leaves were all made out of green cotton, which has sadly now faded to a beige colour, and beside each one is a bright red berry. These jewel-like points of colour have all been individually stuffed so they sit above the white cotton background for extra visual impact. The brilliant red berries juxtaposed with green holly leaves must have made an eye-catching contrast when the quilt was first made. More festive colour was added by the maker along the border in the form of a red cotton swag pattern and a red cotton binding, which neatly frames the whole design. The piece has been quilted all over with flower patterns, a running feather vine border and, appropriately for a wedding quilt, hearts in each corner. All in all, it’s a lovely combination of seasonal detail and the heart-shaped designs traditionally associated with weddings.

The quilt, known as the Christmas Bride’s Quilt, dates from the late 19th century and is an excellent example of an American wedding quilt. These quilts were commonly made in the 19th and early 20th century by girls once they were engaged to celebrate their wedding. Sheila Betterton, in the preface of Classic Quilts from the American Museum, explains how American girls were traditionally expected to make up to 12 quilt tops for their ‘hope’ chest. This was a piece of furniture similar to a blanket box and was used by unmarried girls to store items of clothing and household linen which they would use in their married life. It’s also known as a dowry chest or glory box, while in Britain it was more prosaically known as a bottom drawer. The quilt tops were made by girls from a young age as a practical lesson in sewing; their first attempts were probably simple onepatch designs, but as the girls became better needlewomen the designs became gradually more complex. A final top, the thirteenth, would be made when the girl was engaged and was meant to show the full extent of her technical skill. It would be taken to her new home and treasured as a family heirloom, only to be used for special occasions.

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