Quilting in Colonial America
Quilted bed coverings were rare in early Colonial America. These few beautifully quilted wholecloth quilts were found in the homes of the wealthy. This leaves us wondering what ordinary folks used to keep warm on cold winter nights. The information for this period is sketchy. As every day bedcoverings would have been used until they were worn out we have to turn to letters, journals and inventories for most of our information.
Blankets were available, as they are well known in history as trade items with American Indians. In fact blankets were a common form of bedcovering in early colonial America much as they are now. The blankets of the time were usually woven wool and varied in quality from a twill of rough wool to soft wool brushed into a fine nap. Colors were usually white, blue, green or red sometimes including contrasting stripes across the ends.
While we all know about blankets few of us have ever heard of a bed rug or 'rugg'. Yet bed rugs were widely used in the1600s. In his dictionary written of 1755 Samuel Johnson defined bed rugs as "course, nappy coverlets used for mean beds". These rugs are believed to have been knotted shag although we cannot be sure, as there are no surviving examples of these early bed rugs. These bed rugs were manufactured in England using lesser grade wool. By the mid 1700s bed rugs appear to have been owned by rich and poor alike. One wonders if there was variety in quality or if old bed rugs were simply passed on to those in need. Most of what we know has been found through early records of ownership and words on a list don't tell the whole story.
Quite a different type of bed rug began to appear in the late 1700s and continued to be made into the 1800s. A few examples of these hand made rugs can be found in museums today. The transition between the manufactured bed rugs and the decorative hand worked rugs is uncertain but one possibility might be found in the patriotism of many women preceding and during the Revolutionary war. These women were determined to put their hands to work making their own products rather than buy anything imported from England.
Textile researcher Lynne Bassett explains that hand made bed rugs were done with needle and yarn usually on a wool backing. Many were embroidered with a running stitch left loopy on the top. The tufts could be cut giving a shaggy appearance. Others were flat-embroidered in a variety of darning stitches. She points out, "The definitive characteristic, though, seems to be that they were completely covered with stitching of some sort, either in a solid color, or worked in a decorative pattern."
The other form of bedcovering we find listed in records from this early period is the coverlet. Coverlets appear to have been mainly decorative and were found primarily in more well to do households. These coverlets were woven with wool, linen and cotton. Inventory records indicate that people sometimes prepared the fibers then paid to have them woven into a coverlet. 4 Another form of bedcovering we find listed in records from this early period is the coverlet. Coverlets appear to have been mainly decorative and were found primarily in more well to do households. These coverlets were woven with wool, linen and cotton. Inventory records indicate that people sometimes prepared the fibers then paid to have them woven into a coverlet. The coverlet pictured on this page comes with a similar story of a woman who had raised the sheep and spun the wool then took the yarn to a weaver.