The famous, well-guarded Quilting Bee became a form of socializing for women
Pioneer Women and Their Quilts Comfort Through Hardship
Men opened up new western territories but the great migration west was a family affair with much of the burden falling on the women.
Plans to settle in the new lands took endless discussion including the urging of extended family members to come along. A single wagon traveled in the company of family and friends, all from the same town or geographical location.
There was rigorous preparation necessary before families could begin their travels. Enterprising individuals published guides to be sold to potential pioneers. These guides listed needed items including firearms, food for about 6 months and bedding including two or three blankets or comforters for each man, woman and child. It was said that each family should bring enough bedding to last a few years after arrival in the west; a hint that both quilting supplies and time on the part of the quilter would be scarce on the frontier. Clothing would be needed as well. As a result a great deal of pioneer sewing and quilting was done before the journey even began.
Men talked eagerly of overcoming challenges and settling on the rich farmland. Women were all too aware of the dangers and hardships that lay ahead. A factor that made pioneer women more reluctant about migrating west was their close ties with women friends and family, likely these dear friends would never see each other again. To make this separation less painful, friendship quilts were made for the woman leaving for westward lands. A friendship quilt served as a remembrance of friends left behind.
Women gathered together all the quilts, blankets and tied comforters they could either make or acquire. Special quilts were packed in a trunk. Everyday quilts were left out for bedding. Women found this bedding to be necessary for many other uses. A folded quilt offered a little padding on the wagon seat for the person driving the oxen or any one riding over the long rough trail. When winds rose up and blew across the dusty plains, blankets, quilts and comforters were used to cover the cracks and any other openings that let the choking dust inside the wagon.
When a pioneer family reached their destination quilts were still needed for uses beyond bed coverings. Instead of keeping rain and wind out of the wagon they covered windows and doors of log cabins and dugouts. There was a need for emotional sustenance as well. Putting a quilt on the bed gave a woman a sense of connection with her former way of life. Something of beauty was very much needed in her barren home. ">http://www.womenfolk.com/quilting_history/sunfth.jpg" width=125 align=left>When a pioneer family reached their destination quilts were still needed for uses beyond bed coverings. Instead of keeping rain and wind out of the wagon they covered windows and doors of log cabins and dugouts. There was a need for emotional sustenance as well. Putting a quilt on the bed gave a woman a sense of connection with her former way of life. Something of beauty was very much needed in her barren home.
Arriving in the new land did not immediately change life much especially for the early pioneers. The family still had to live in tents, the wagon or a crude lean to until a log cabin or sod house could be built. It took a few years to build first a farm and then a home. These years were often difficult and lonely.
Pioneer women never forgot friends and families left behind. Women wrote letters to the ones they left behind and included scraps of quilting material.
Women eventually found more time for needlework and quilting. The famous, well-guarded Quilting Bee became a form of socializing for women. It was a time when they could gather together and discuss family.
Pioneer quilting had come full circle, making quilts in anticipation to to express creativity through quilting in a new land.
Copyright 2006 Sage Sweetwater, firebrand lesbian novelist