19th Century American Quilt Analysis
Quilting became a unique art due primarily to the American slaves of the 19th century. Long days of working alongside of their masters enabled the slaves to become proficient in their craft. Their distinctive techniques and methods were passed from generation to generation. Some historians believed the quilts played an intricate role in the Underground Railroad. The art of quilting developed through centuries of hard work and skills generated by the American slave.
The American quilt derives from the 19th century slaves that utilized the scrap pieces of clothing from their masters. Vegetable dyes created every color of the rainbow to use in the quilts. The women of the house would also spend time sewing while the slaves took care of the house. Oftentimes, the slaves had to sew for their masters making quilts and clothing. The slave women spent weeks on one quilt so the masters could sell them for profit. When the women were able to sew in their free time, they created quilts for their own families. The slaves used them for warmth so they used them until they wore thin. Most of the quilts created for the slaves did not survive the years. Throughout the 19th century, the slaves mastered their techniques of sewing for their master??™s profit but also for practical use.
The slaves had their own distinctive technique and colors. ???According to Gladys-Marie Fry, the slaves??™ preference for the color red in both their quilts and their clothing was linked to traditional West African color symbolism (Bersson).??? Each sewer passed their technique to the next generation. The symbols were unique to families or groups of slaves. Women passed their knowledge of not only their technique but also the symbolism of each quilt or color. Different symbols or colors represented different aspects of their lives. ???Red was identified with life and fertility. It was associated with blood, symbolic of the birth process and of the male roles of warrior and hunter (Bersson).??? These techniques are very distinctive to the American slave and are used to this day in many quilts.
Some historians believe the quilts had a major role in the Underground Railroad. According to Sarah Ives of the National Geographic News, historians believe the different symbols used in some quilts held secret messages for travelers searching for directions. The slaves memorized a sample code the quilter created so they had a guide throughout their journey. The historians believe symbols such as bear claws pointed travelers north towards the Appalachian Mountains. Their theories are open to interpretation since there is evidence one way or the other. Some believe this code is just folklore since there is no documentation supporting the theory. Regardless, the quilts portray magnificent beauty and will always be a part of American history.
The preservation of the American slave quilts is essential to American history.
The American slave quilted clothes and blankets for their families and masters. Their techniques past on through the generations to preserve the functionality and beauty created during their time. Some believe the seamstresses created signs or codes to provide guidance to those traveling through the Underground Railroad. Quilting is considered a trade but also an art form that started long ago by very strong talented women.
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