Here is the third quilt Connie inherited from her Auntie. As I worked on finishing it, I reflected on “utility quilts.” Do we make utility quilts today, or do we tend to make “pretty” quilts?
Back in the day, folks did not have central heating or electric blankets. When winter arrived, you piled as many quilts as you owned on the bed in order to keep warm. My grandmother told me she and her sisters had so many heavy quilts on the bed, they couldn’t even turn over!
What did folks make utility quilts out of? Any fabric they had on hand! Worn or outgrown clothing, scraps from dressmaking or home dec projects, feedsacks … whatever. My husband’s grandmother’s relatives worked in a textile factory making shirts and pajamas. The fabric pieces were die cut through multiple layers, and the workers were allowed to bring home the sometimes sizeable scraps. These leftovers found their way into many a utility quilt to keep mountain folks warm during the frigid Virginia winters.
Besides keeping the family warm in the wintertime, a utility quilt could be used as a pallet on the living room floor for a sleepy child, a summer picnic blanket, a wrap for an ailing cow or horse, a cushion for furniture in a moving truck, and a tent draped over the clothesline for imaginative cousins to play in.
In this quilt, Connie’s aunt used a lot of light weight home decorating fabrics, manufactured for sheets or curtains, I surmise. Did she or a friend work in a textile mill, generous with fabric scraps? I am baffled by her decision to sew four of the same fabric together for many of the patches. Did she want to make a bigger splash of color than conventional Four Patches would make?
For the backing of this utility quilt, I used yardage of a pink tone-on-tone garnered from my guild’s free table. In keeping with the utilitarian nature of the quilt, I used a utilitarian over-all quilting design in pink thread. The freehand design shows up well on the back of the quilt.
You can see pictures of utility quilts online; just type “images of utilitarian quilts” or “images of utility quilts” in your browser. Disclaimer: Some of the images shown are not of utility quilts; you’ll be able to tell the difference between a utility quilt and a quilt for show.
Do you have a utility quilt in your collection? If so, describe it in a comment below.