Quilts: A Brief History & How to Tell if a Quilt is Hand-Sewn or Machine-Sewn

A Brief History of Quilting in America


Quilting as a craft came to America with the early Puritans.

Quilts were made in those early days in America to serve a purpose, to provide warmth at night and to cover doors and windows to help reduce cold.

Quilts were functional, with little time for women to create decorative quilts.

In the early 1800s, whole-cloth quilts became popular.

Beauty was not in the fabric or colors but in the stitching and/or cording work done on them.

Applique became popular in the mid-1700s and peaked in popularity around 1850, but it was only the wealthy that could afford the expensive fabrics that went into these early applique quilts.

For the less affluent, quilts were created using scraps of old fabrics, whatever was at hand, including old rags and flour sacks.

There are two common types of quilts: Comforter Quilts for warmer months where the layers are tied to prevent shifting and bunching of the inner layers and Summer Quilts made without the warm layers resulting in a lighter quilt for warmer weather.


Quiltmaking was taught to the young daughters in the early days.

Young girls would make a Baker’s Dozen quilt tops for their future married life.

Girls would piece together 12 quilts for everyday use and one special quilt for their Bridal Bed.

Once engaged to be married, girls would complete their quilts for use in their new homes.

The art of quilting took a big leap forward in the mid-1800s with the development of the sewing machine.

As time passed, quilts evolved to become more decorative or colorful, often using all-new fabrics of similar weight and feel rather than a hodge-podge of reused materials.

Hand-Sewn vs. Machine-Sewn

Experience is the best way to hone your skills when it comes to determining whether a quilt is hand sewn or machine sewn. Hand-sewn pieces will have slightly irregular stitching while machine-made quilts will have very regular, even stitches. However, a quilt made by a highly-skilled quilter will have regular, tight stitches as well, so exposure to many quilts over years of experience is the best way to refine your eye when looking at quilts.

Hand-sewn Examples

                                quilt        quilt       quilt       quilt

Machine-Sewn Examples

                         quilt    quilt    quilt    quilt

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