Patriotic quilts

Mary Ellen Cummings

July– the Red-White-and-Blue month; Independence Day; our nation’s birthday month. The colors of our country’s flag are found everywhere—beach balls, swim suits, kiddie pools, fire works, picnic accessories and QUILTS.

The colors of fabrics in quilts are as numerous as the patterns or designs of the quilts. However, three colors have dominated the quilt scene; red, green and yellow. With the official U.S. Flag adoption (after the Revolutionary War) in 1777, patriotic themes were featured in bedcovers. Since the flag was red, white, and blue, it was common practice to use these colors and gold in quilts.

Robert Bishop, author of Quilts, Coverlets, Rugs, and Samplers, says: "It was not unusual for a quilt maker either to piece or appliqué...motifs such as emblems, shields or stars; sometimes a real American flag was used as a central design element." The American Eagle enjoyed wide popularity from the late 1780s until the 1840s; declined until the Civil War when it was revived.

Patriotic quilts become more popular in times of national celebrations, emergencies, or tragedies such as the U.S.S. Cole bombing as reported in this column in May. In the 1930s (the Depression Years) quilt kits were popular and patriotic motifs reappeared in stylistic forms. Again during World War II, red white, and blue patriotic quilts became popular especially with navy and air force symbols. Uncle Sam, flags and stars with embroidered slogans wee among the designs.

Many of the patriotic symbols were simple designs and left large areas of the quilt top bare. As a result, these areas were heavily quilted with intricate designs.

Quilt making became less popular during the war. The men were away with the armed forces, and the women were working in the factories and defense industries. However, in the last ten years, the craft has again been revived with new twists. Red, white, and blue are still popular colors, but they are combined with all shades of the rainbow and all intensities of the spectrum.

The new quilt scene is a gallery of fabric art. The designs are more arty than patriotic. A July quilt would be made of fabrics printed with flags, fireworks, oceans, and skies. A July quilt could even be "Bugs in a bottle." 

Read other Quilting articles by Mary Ellen Cummings