The art of quilting once played a much more prominent role in the lives of young men and women. The Bride’s Quilt and the Freedom Quilt teach us lessons of the days gone by.
Our lifestyle today finds us purchasing a wedding gift at a local store; many people lack the time and the patience to be able to craft a meaningful gift with their own hands. It is thought that quilt making is done mostly by older women who have retired and have more time to devote to such an intense art; however, today younger women are once again enjoying the creativity of quilting. While this demographic makes up an incredibly important segment of the quilting community, too often others who enjoy the process are looked over. Worse still, many people believe that this stereotype is typical of the historical quilter.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Not too long ago, quilting was considered to be an important endeavor not only for those who practiced it, but among communities in general. Creating a quilt was a skill that was attained through years of practice, and although most had the skills to create a basic design, not everyone was truly a master. Moreover, quilting was an important activity for women of all ages, and many men also recognized the value of a quilt. Quilts were commonly used to mark the coming of age of both boys and girls, as evidenced in the idea of the Bride’s Quilt and the Freedom Quilt.
The Bride’s Quilt
Back in an age where many girls still brought a dowry to their weddings, quilts were an important inclusion in any hope chest. In fact, there was a certain number of quilts that needed to be included in any hope chest, ranging from ten to thirteen, according to American Patchwork Quilts by Lenice Ingram Bacon. The most important of these quilts was that made by the bride, according to her design and by her own hands.
As the bride and groom planned their first lodging, there was rarely a question that the Bride’s Quilt would cover their first bed. Thus, its pattern and design were often decided upon by both the bride and groom together, after they had become engaged. It is clear from this endeavor that men had an active role if not in the creation of the family quilt, then in the decision making process that guided it. This may come as a surprise to many in today’s world of “his” and “hers”! Traditional Bride’s Quilts often used the symbol of love, the heart or a pattern with various hearts included. In the later half of the nineteenth century, as white became the popular color for weddings (thanks to the impracticality of Queen Victoria!), white bridal quilts also gained a lot of popularity, according to Jean Noon, writing for UltimateWedding.com.
The Freedom Quilt
If the role of a man in the Bride’s Quilt comes as a surprise, you might be even more shocked to learn of the concept of the Freedom Quilt. While today’s historians consider the pre-industrial male to be something of a free person by right of gender, the fact is that many men lived in servitude to their parents until they came of age. On his 21st birthday, a boy was a man in the eyes of the law and thus was truly free to make his own way and to keep his own money. One way in which the celebration was marked was through the creation of the Freedom Quilt. This quilt was usually made by family or friends, especially the young man’s mother, and carried heavy symbolic significance. In one spectacular case mentioned in Mrs. Bacon’s book, the man’s quilt was made entirely of squares stitched by swooning and hopeful young ladies.
Like the Bride’s Quilt, the Freedom Quilt was used on the marriage bed, and usually given to the groom on the day of his marriage.
Throughout history and still today, quilts such as the Bride’s Quilt and the Freedom Quilt often celebrate important events in the lives of those for whom they are quilted. Both men and women have had their parts in making these quilts, and women of all ages who wish to add a significant piece of memorabilia, an heirloom, to their family history should consider quilting as a unique way to do so.