On Sunday, July 24th, the Red Mill Museum Village will feature its annual Quilt Airing event. So we thought it would be interesting to give you a brief bit of history about quilting in the United States and how quilt airing became an annual event in many villages and towns around the country.

Quilting is merely stitching together two layers of fabric with some padding in between. Quilting is actually a very old craft dating back to ancient Egypt 

Quilting became more popular in Europe around the 12th century when it was found that Crusaders wore quilted garments under their armor for warmth, protection and comfort.

A very early decorative quilt was discovered from the 14th century and is called the Tristan Quilt. Made in Sicily, it is one of the oldest surviving quilts in the world and several sections of this quilt can be seen in a few different museums in Europe. 

The early Puritans obviously brought quilting to America. Of course, at the time the Puritans arrived on our shores, quilts were made strictly to serve the purpose of providing warmth at night and were also used to cover doors and windows to help reduce cold during the harsh winter months.

During the 1600s and 1700s, women had little time to be concerned about the decorative nature of quilts – they were strictly functional – and with resources very scarce, quilts were made with whatever fabric and materials were available to them. Often quilts were made from old clothing that no longer fit the children or was too worn to wear, and even some pieces of old worn quilt fabric could be sewn into the sections of a newer quilt.

In the 1700s through about mid-1800s applique – ornamental needlework – became a popular addition to quilting enabling much more decorative designs. However, it was only the wealthier people that could afford the expensive fabrics needed to create these early applique quilts.

Quilt-making was taught to the young girls by their mothers in colonial times and beyond. Sometimes, mothers would make several quilts for each child as gifts to take with them when they left home on their own or married.

Quilting became somewhat of a relaxing hobby for pioneer woman, especially when the women of the community or rural area would gather at someone’s home for a quilting “bee”.  These gatherings of women were often held to help provide a quilt as a welcome gift to a new family in the village while the husbands raised a barn for them.  

With the development of the sewing machine in the mid-1800s, quilting became easier and more popular as a craft and hobby, as well as a continuing household necessity. As sewing machines became more sophisticated, quilts evolved to become more decorative or colorful, and used all new fabrics of similar weight and feel rather than just unmatched and reused materials. Oftentimes the quilt patterns told a story, had political or religious implications, and/or family fabrics were sewn into some quilts.

During WWII quilting became a way to raise funds for the Red Cross with the creation of signature quilts. The signature quilt was created by selling community store owners and citizens the opportunity to have their name embroidered on a quilt for a small fee. The completed quilt would then be raffled off to a lucky winner and the proceeds were used by the Red Cross to support their efforts in the war.

The most wonderful things about handmade quilts is that they are often passed from one generation to another making the quilts truly memorable and meaningful to family members.

The Airing of the Quilts became a tradition in either the late spring or fall of every year, especially in more rural communities. After a long cold winter, the women would pick a day in the spring to air out and freshen the family’s quilts over a fence, a clothes line, or across the porch. In some communities the quilts were taken out of summer storage and aired in the autumn, just before the cold weather set in. Over time, the local residents strolled around the town and viewed all of the many different colorful quilts that were airing out, which brought the townspeople together in a social atmosphere. 

Join Us For Our Annual Traditional Quilt Airing

Red Mill Museum Village continues this historic tradition with their Quilt Airing event on Sunday, July 24th, 2022 with a rain date of Sunday, July 31st. Quilters and quilt owners will present their beautiful handmade quilts among the historic setting of the Red Mill Museum Village.

The Quilt Airing will feature old and modern quilts hung or “aired” outdoors from clotheslines and fence rails on the Museum grounds for the enjoyment of the public. We welcome all to attend this wonderful event, meet many of the quilt-makers, and hear the stories about their quilts. While you are here, explore the Red Mill Museum Village and visit our lovely gift shop. 

If you would like to include a quilt for display or have any questions about the event please contact the museum at 908-735-4101 x102 or ecole@theredmill.org. You may also visit our website at www.theredmill.org for more information.

Events like this help support the Red Mill Museum Village, a privately supported 501(3) (C) institution, and its mission to preserve and exhibit the unique history of the Red Mill and the Mulligan Quarry, including the cultural history that reflects Hunterdon County for the benefit of residents and visitors.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This