|Pentz Baltimore Album|
Quilt top, family and friends of Julia Ann Pentz
Before we investigate the role the quilt played in the West, we must briefly examine the emergence of the medium. Quilting has a lengthy history. Believed to have originated as far back as in Ancient Egypt and China, quilts, and their use, have evolved over time. At its inception, quilting appears to have been used primarily for clothing as several layers were stitched together: the top, batting for warmth in between, and the backing. Fabric is delicate, and as few items survived over thousands of years, historians have turned to sculpture, paintings, and literature, to understand the role played by quilted fabric and quilts, themselves. It is likely that quilting was brought to Europe during the Crusades, a series of holy wars fought between CE 1095 and 1291. Examples in art portray Muslim soldiers in tightly quilted clothing as part of their armor which was soon adopted by medieval European soldiers. There are, however, early panels such as the Tristan quilt, a bed cover created in Sicily and archived in The Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Made in Sicily, Italy
Linen quilted, padded with cotton wadding
with outlines in brown and white linen thread
The Amish, German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and in the Midwest, are revered for their beautiful and elaborate quilts, however, they did not initially quilt when they settled in America, but continued the tradition of using feather beds and coverlets that were popular at home- few quilts were created in the Amish communities before the 1870s. As quilting became accepted, changes in how they were made occurred slowly and strictly with community approval. This resulted in a great deal of variety from community to community as each had its own set of guidelines as to how things should be done. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania Amish preferred a somber color palate, while certain brighter hues were embraced elsewhere.
In the West, quilting traditions were brought by women relocating from the eastern United States. There were no quilting customs among the Spanish-Mexican settlers along the Rio Grande until the coming of the railroad in 1880 when mail delivery along with Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues began to arrive. As in the East, enterprising women used leftover scraps to provide a faster and easier way to create covers for beds than spinning or weaving blankets. The coming of the railroad accelerated immigration bringing quiltmaking traditions along with them and the Southwest became an extension of the eastern United States, a safe place to bring families and settle down.
Although the demands of frontier life as well as cultural norms, limited opportunities for artistic expression by many women, scholars have discovered that the important contributions of women in the West did not go entirely undocumented. Aside from diaries and journals, Western women also recorded their daily lives in their quilts. On the westward trail or in frontier settlements, quilts were a means of both physical and emotional comfort. Quilts lined and covered wagons, padded china, or became window covers or even primitive shelters such as tents. Quilts were even used in the place of coffins. A diary written in 1849 records the bodies of a mother and infant “wrapped together in a bed comforter and wound … with a few yards of string that we made by tying together torn strips of a cotton dress shirt.” 
Many women on the frontier made quilts to pass the time. The weather was a challenge on the plains and out west, homesteads were far apart so women didn't have regular access to town or to each other. The relative isolation of the women also made the idea of the "quilting bee" attractive. The quilting bee offered women a chance to socialize. At a quilting bee women from the area would bring quilt tops that were already pieced and work together to quilt the top. Often a quilting bee would be a full day affair with lunch served to the women who came to help and dinner for all the families. Sometimes there would be a dance in the evening. One of the happier functions of the quilting bee was to help provide young women with quilts for their hope chests. 
|Detail Crazy Quilt|
Silk and silk velvet
Initialed and dated 1890
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