Wedding Quilts

Mary Ellen Cummings

June is the traditional month for weddings. In an agrarian society, a June wedding meant a winter pregnancy, leaving the wife/mother free and able to help with spring planting and fall harvesting. Do any of our readers know of this reason for June weddings?

The traditional white wedding gown began with Queen Victoria of England. She refused to wear the usual somber black, blue, or brown colors others chose. The fabrics were fine silk, satins, or taffetas but, always dark.

A wedding tradition of the 19th century involved quilts. Before a girl could be married she had to make 13 quilts—12 for everyday use and one bride’s quilt which would be displayed on very special occasions. It would be either a very intricately stitched top, an appliquéd quilt, or a whole cloth white spread. Sometimes, rarely, the bride’s quilt was designed by her fiancé. After her quilt was finished the pattern was destroyed because it belonged only to "them."

When the thirteen quilt tops were finished the soon-to-be bride would hold a Quilting Bee and friends would come for all-day quilting to finish her quilts. This would be the official engagement announcement. However, since fabric was very costly, the backing and interlining were not purchased until there was no doubt a wedding would occur.

Other accounts of this quilt tradition inform us that friends could help quilt the everyday covers, but the bride’s quilt must be done by the girl getting married. Another rule was that she must quilt it in a specified time, finishing the night before her wedding day. One historian states that all quilts must be finished by the bride-to-be. She would start making her "trousseau" quilts as soon as her beau proposed. It was considered bad luck to start her quilts before a marriage proposal. The engagement would last until all of her quilts were finished. This historian did not say a specific number of quilts had to be made.

Some bride’s quilts have survived until the 21st century and are now museum pieces. Most are very elaborate with flowers, birds, vines, and cottages. Some include figures of a man and a woman in typical wedding attire. One, maybe more, have included only the figure of a woman and a black square where the man would be. One can only speculate on the reason. A few bride’s quilts have been found with a wide black border, making it a mourning quilt. No one knows who added the border, when it was added, or who was deceased.

If quilts could only talk.

 Read other Quilting articles by Mary Ellen Cummings