Remember Me When This You See ~ A Short History of Signature Quilts An Introduction
The study of antique quilts is fascinating. Quilts combine the spheres of artistic endeavour, social history and household utility. There are so many ways to look at and discuss quilts and there is always one more quilt to discover. For me, signature quilts are extra special. I inherited my first signature quilt and since then have acquired a few more. In this series of postings I will share my passion of these quilts and I hope you will discover why I am so enthralled by these special reminders of our ancestors. A signature quilt is any quilt that contains blocks that have been signed. Signatures can be written with ink, stamped with a manufactured stamp or embroidered. Signature quilts are often called friendship quilts. The blocks are made by a group of people for a special occasion such as a wedding, birth or farewell. The blocks may be all the same pattern made with different fabrics.
Quilting was not overdone, because the sentimental value was more important than the craftsmanship. Signature quilts made an appearance in the United States in the 1840s and quickly gained in popularity. There were a number of reasons why this happened. As technological advances improved both printing and dying processes, printed material became cheaper and the variety of patterns increased dramatically. Quilting and applique spread from the well-to-do ladies to the growing middle class. The industrial revolution saw a change from a rural society based on agriculture to an urbanised society based on industry. Instead of a farming family working together to keep themselves fed and clothed and housed, the family unit was demarcated; men went out to work to be the providers, and women stayed at home to care for children and keep house. Extended families dispersed. Women turned to each other for friendship and support. Their definition of family expanded to include female relatives and friends. At this time the autograph album and calling cards were used to record sentimental verse and friendly thoughts. Giftbooks were popular from the 1820s to the 1860s and were a source of poems and phrases. Magazines such as the Godey's Ladies' Book were another common source for friendship verses.
The great western migration in America in the middle of the 19th century was another encouragement for the making of signature quilts. Women left their parents, family and friends and moved with husbands and children across the mountains and plains to a new future. A signature quilt became a reminder of those left behind and maintained a bond between the old and the new. Last but not least was an invention, the invention of indelible ink. Indelible ink became commercially available in 1845 and steel nib pens replaced goose quills. Writing was now easy and permanent. Early homemade inks faded or left residues of iron and tannin which attacked the fabric. Penmanship became an important feature of a young lady’s and a young man’s education.