Lesson 4.1: Quilting Communities

Quilting is found in many cultures. Quilting is a process
for sewing together a fabric “sandwich” of a bottom layer or “liner,” a middle layer or “filling,” and a decorative top layer.


A member of the Women’s Missionary and Service Commission in Wellman works on a rug.

The technique of quilting fabric is used for functional and aesthetic reasons: to keep people warm and to make bed covers, jackets, and other items of clothing look pretty. Most American quilts are “pieced.” The fabric is first cut into shapes using a template or pattern and then sewn or “pieced” together to make geometrical designs or “patterns,” which have a variety of traditional names. Families, quilting guilds, magazines, and other publications are the sources for patterns.

The finished top, whether pieced or “whole cloth,” is basted to a filler, usually of polyester batting today, and a liner; marked with the “quilting” or stitching pattern; stretched and basted onto a quilting frame; and then quilted in sections. Quilts are also held together by a method called “tying,” “tacking,” or “knotting,” which involves sewing the “sandwich” together with regularly placed knots of yarn or thread instead of a running stitch.

Quilting bees in the past and quilters guilds today bring people together to quilt and, at the same time, talk and create a sense of community. Quilts are used to celebrate life-cycle events like births and marriages, to commemorate people or places, and to raise funds for special causes, as well as to decorate our homes and cover our beds.


Folklife Background

Quilts come in many varieties in Iowa. Most Anglo-American quilters make pieced or appliquéd covers in symmetrical patterns held together with very small, regular stitches. Amana quilters use “whole cloth” or one large woven piece that showcases the tiny quilting stitches that trace floral and geometrical designs. Amish and Mennonite quilters are known for their deep contrasting color combinations; and many African-American quilters employ a strip or “string” (instead of patch or square) construction, medium-sized stitches, asymmetrical designs, bold, contrasting colors, and knot, tack, or tie the quilt layers together.

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Students will be able to:
1. Discuss quilting as a reflection of community/ group aesthetics.
2. Compare the different processes of quilt making in different cultures.
3. Design a class quilt.

Cross References

Instructional Program:

Prairie Voices Lesson:
Quilting: A Pioneer Craft