History of Quilting

Students at the Harley School sewing for the Red Cross, 1940s

Quilting is an extremely old craft which takes various forms in many cultures. It is a practice primarily designed to make use of leftover scraps of fabric, creating something both functional and beautiful.

Quilting has been a prominent practice in America since colonial times. It has been used as an individual expression of the many different cultures in this country, and a celebration of their everyday lives.

Sewing class at the Harley School, 1920s

This craft has also served several political purposes in American history. Quilting circles were a common social event which served to raise money during the movement for abolition. Additionally, they are supposed to have played a role in the Underground Railroad, used as a signal for safe houses or as a map with instructions for escape. Quilting continues to serve in a monumental capacity today, most prominently in the form of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The AIDS Quilt is an ongoing tribute to those who have died of AIDS and to the tragic impact this disease has had. Today the AIDS Quilt has over 48,000 individual panels.