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A woman stitching a quilt one hundred years ago had little reason to suspect the work she was doing would someday have historic impact. Her intention those busy days was to sew bed coverings to keep her family warm and, perhaps, enjoy the conviviality of an afternoon or an evening out in the company of other women. Even though other chores were always pressing and a family's needs were never quite fulfilled, women took the time to stitch. The legacy they have left in the form of beautiful quilts is a testament to their skill and ingenuity. And to the lasting value of work invested with equal parts care and craft.
Why do quilts have an enduring effect? Why do people continue to search for ways to include them in their lives? A quilt seems to have resonance, embodying more life than an ordinary bedspread or comforter. Handstitching shows that time and care went into its making. The very look of a homemade quilt seems to invest a room with soul. The quilt stands alone as a symbol of talent, love, and pride.
Simply defined, a quilt is made from three layers of cloth: a top, filler, and a backing. The process of stitching these layers together is called quilting, yet over the years the word quilting has come to mean the entire process of making a stitched bedcover. This is most often done with a pattern of tiny, even stitches over the whole surface. The surface can also be patterned by using different fabrics or fabric arrangements.
While quilting reached a form of high craftsmanship in Europe by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the earliest American quilts were simply two solid-colored pieces of cloth bound together with fancy stitching. Known as whole-cloth quilts, they resembled today's comforters.
Excerpted from Country Living's Country Quilts. Copyright 1992 by The Hearst Corporation.