Saturday, October 2, 2010

What's In a Quilt?

When we talk about antique or vintage quilts, we have certain obvious things we think about - how old is it?  Where did it come from?  What is the name of the pattern or the style of the quilt? Was it made by machine or by hand?  How much is it worth?

These are the most frequent kinds of inquiries I get with quilts? But like the amazing story of the simple little pencil, there is so much more than meets the eye.

So let's talk about some things you might never have thought of when it comes to quilts. How many people are actually involved in the creation of a quilt?  I bet it is a lot more than you or I can imagine in our wildest thoughts. How could that be?  Let's start at the beginning of the story.

Someone has to grow the cotton that makes the quilt, or they raise sheep or other creatures for the wool, or they raise silkworms for the silk, or perhaps they even have linen. The plants must be harvested, and sometimes additional processes to make the beginnings of textile usable.

The raw materials of fabric must be taken to the site where they will next be processed to be spun and woven. Another bunch of people involved. In this aspect  The plants or yarns might need to be dyed before becoming textile, or they might have to otherwise be treated such as being bleached.

Once this process or series of processes is complete, the textile now will be sent off for printing, if printing is to be done, or it will be sent off for further processing.

And next the textile is taken from the manufacturer's factory and shipped to various stores throughout the states, or even the world. And once in the stores, it is price-marked and otherwise sorted and put in specific locations, perhaps according to a designer's name, or perhaps according to the fabric type, such as batiks (which have a lot of extra processing. There might even be some additional steps in here that I am not aware of.

Meanwhile, the batting has also come from either cotton or wool, but it is taken to a mill and it is processed differently from the fabrics. It is either put onto rolls, or into different size packages (i.e. small for baby or lap quilts, etc.) and those are all labeled, and then it is shipped off also to quilt stores or other stores that might carry fabrics.

And of course there is the thread, which is a unique process of its own, and there are many types too. The wood from trees has to be formed into spools, or they are formed from Styrofoam or other plastic, and then that is sent to where the formed thread is then wound onto the spools. I really don't know a lot about the processing of thread, so there may be more complex things involved, and of course it also has to be dyed before it goes onto the spools.  It is also labeled and packaged and then shipped off to the stores.

And of course what quilt could come to be without tools such as scissors, needles, or perhaps sewing machines. The more we begin to look at what really goes into a quilt, the more we see how many people truly are involved with the creation of a quilt, and that is before it even gets to the person who buys the fabric and creates the quilt. There could be quite literally thousands of people involved in one way or another with just getting the fabric, the batting, the thread and the tools needed to the point where the would-be quilter can purchase it.  And of course there are the people who measure and cut the cloth as well and those who take the money.  All in all, I would say that quilts contain quite a culture within them.

For the quilter who makes the beautiful quilts, he or she can feel really good to know how many people have been employed by him or her.

The quilts pictured in this article belong to the author and were purchased from Joanie Shapiro, whose friend Barbara, owned them before she passed on. Thank you so much, Joanie, for sharing these lovely old quilts so that we could tell this story of what's really involved in making a quilt. The first quilt is the nine-patch, and the strippy just below it is the backing of that quilt. The third photo shows the strippy Flying Geese quilt.

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