BLOCK Friday: Civil War Quilts

This BLOCK Friday would be about the Civil War quilt block, if such a thing existed. Because of an eventual shortage of fabric and the overwhelming demand for warm blankets and quilts for soldiers, the quiltmaking movement for Union and Confederate women during the Civil War was more about necessity and less about the art of quilting. Although, quilters did take pride in their work. Some Civil War quilts were assembled with many of the same quilt block, but others were a conglomerate of many different quilt blocks.

Civil War Sampler - Civil War Quilt Patterns
Civil War Sampler by Toby Lishko

There were two main goals of Civil War quilts: 1) to provide Union and Confederate soldiers with warmth and bedding and, 2) to raise money at fairs for the war effort. Original Civil War quilts were commonly made of scraps, a variety of quilt blocks and made in a hurry. The exception to this rule, however, was quilts sold at fairs and auctions. Those quilts were often made of finer materials like wool and fine cotton, even silk. The quilts donated to men fighting the war were made of a variety of fabric, sometimes pieces of old clothing or two bed-size quilts that had been sewn together and cut into three pieces to accommodate the dimensions of soldiers’ cots.

Dyes were less vibrant and less diverse during this time in American history than they are today, and as mentioned above, women couldn’t be terribly selective about the fabrics used in their quilts. This was especially true for Southern women, as the Southern ports were eventually blockaded and fabric became scarce. Most of the quilts from this time were used to the point of disintegration and they were made to be used, not saved. As you can imagine, the few surviving Civil War quilts are mainly those that were sold at fairs or auctions.

Today, we have great reproduction fabrics available to us to use in our Civil War quilt patterns. The Civil War Sampler above takes you on a journey, as was featured across three different Love of Quilting issues. All three issues are available in the Love of Quilting 2011 Compilation CD. Wars Remembered is another lovely Civil War quilt pattern using muted reproduction Civil War prints. As you can see, this quilt features Ohio Star quilt blocks, which are framed with a dark red print to separate and highlight them against a scrappy background. This throw quilt pattern speaks to a pivotal point in American history.

Wars Remembered - Civil War Quilt Patterns
Wars Remembered by Kathy Munkelwitz

The throw quilt pattern below, Richmond Civil War, showcases rows of Union tents and uses fabric that is reminiscent of the Civil War time period. This project is offered as a quilt kit, so the fabrics are included. For other Civil War quilt patterns that do not come as quilt kits, you may want to use Civil War era reproduction prints for an authentic period piece feel.

Richmond Civil War Quilt - Civil War Quilt Patterns
Richmond Civil War Quilt by Paula Barnes

Matching the fabrics to the quilting era is an appropriate way to represent a specific time in quilting history. Ellie Bennett knows all about this. For some fun, and Civil War quilting enthusiast, take a look at this special Quilt Out Loud episode, Rug Hooking & Civil War Quilting. Mark Lipinski meets with Ellie Bennett, a resident of Littlestown, Pennsylvania. Ellie lives in a Civil War period house and she quilts & hooks rugs while living that period lifestyle. I really enjoyed this episode and think you will, too.

Civil War quilts are a way to bring quilting history into your home. They have such a distinctive look to them that many quilters recognize. A Civil War throw quilt can bring quilters together in conversation, guilds and retreats. Take a closer look at your favorite Civil War quilt pattern and give it a try.

Carrie Sisk, Online Editor, Fons & Porter
Happy Quilting!

Carrie Sisk, Fons & Porter, Online Editor

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Carrie Sisk

About Carrie Sisk

Carrie's first sewing machine was a gift from her dad—a better gift was never given. A crafter, trained pianist and experienced paintballer, when the opportunity arises, she's hiking in Yosemite or Rocky Mountain National Park.

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