• The History of Doll Quilts in America

    The History of Doll Quilts in America
    By Michele Lancaster

    The first baby and crib quilts in America were mentioned in the New England archives around 1750. Diary entries and household inventories from this time mention cribs, cradles and small beds especially made for children. Coverlets for these small pieces of furniture were handmade and often pieced from smaller pieces of fabric.

    Collectors of antique doll quilts realize the treasures they hold as there are not many examples of this craft. The infant mortality rate was very high until the late 1800s and small quilts were used as shrouds to wrap the little babies for burial.

    In the eighteenth century, children were considered to be miniature adults after infancy. They were dressed like adults and given responsibilities according to their age. Small quilts for children were often made in the same patterns as their larger counterparts, using the same fabrics and colors. A miniature version of the original.


    In the 19th Century, an expecting mother or other family member would sew a quilt for the first-born child and that quilt would be used for subsequent children in the family. It is rare to find antique baby quilts as most were used until they were worn out and then disposed of.

    Sewing was an essential task for women in the 19th Century. Little girls were taught their first sewing skills at the age of three, and many of the initial sewing projects were doll quilts. The child was able to choose her fabrics from the scrap bag, measure and cut the pieces for a simple quilt block, and hand sew with small and regular stitches. This "practice" was made more enjoyable by the prospect of having a cover for a beloved doll.

    During the pioneer era, quilting was popular due to the expanding textile industry and the availability of inexpensive fabric. Quilts were needed for the westward journey and would adorn beds once the pioneers were settled. Young girls brought their treasured dolls for the journey while the women packed quilts made by friends and family as going away gifts.


    The quilt making process continued through America with quilting bees, quilts made for the Civil War cause, crazy quilting from the Victorian era, patriotic quilts during war times, and depression era necessity quilts. Although there was a lull in quilting during the 1940s through the 1960s, a revival of sorts came about during America's Bicentennial. Quilting has continued to be a popular hobby in modern times.

    Twenty First Century Doll Quilts

    As quilting continues to be a popular hobby, the doll quilt is not to be left out. Creating smaller or miniature quilts enables the quilt maker to practice techniques, try new patterns and stretch their improvisational skills by creating quilts from their imagination or other inspiration. The varieties and possibilities are endless.


    While computers continue to play a larger role in our lives, quilters have gathered in full force on the world wide web. There are quilting groups and forums, quilter's blogs, quilt swaps, and sites that feature detailed instruction and free quilt patterns. It's an exciting time to be able to participate in quilting "bees" with other quilters around the world.

    The camaraderie between quilters is a unique aspect of quilt making. Quilters are giving people and the friendships made while practicing this craft have proven to enhance the hobby tremendously. Sharing quilts with others is inherently a quality most quilters possess.


    Doll quilt swaps have become popular in the online quilting community. There are several quilters that host ongoing doll quilt swaps with quilters around the world. The requirements are usually simple. Doll quilts range in size from 12" x 12" to as large as 24" x 24". They can be hand pieced, machine pieced, appliquéd, traditional, modern, or a combination of both. Actual quilting can be done by machine or hand and some quilters choose to tie their quilts for a primitive look. Embellishments such as beads, rick rack, buttons, and other fabric trims can be added for interest. The quilts are usually bound and the final step is a label that describes the quilt, the recipient, the quilt maker and the date the quilt was created.


    Some doll quilt swaps have certain themes like the seasons of the year, or color-specific themes. Other swaps ask you to communicate with your swap partner to get ideas as to what would please them. I host the doll quilt swap on the Quilting Board which is in its infancy stages. We started in May of 2009 and are just finishing up our second swap. The second swap featured a "Japanese Twist," which a board member from Japan, Yumi, proposed to me. Her quilting group in Japan was intrigued by the quilt Yumi received during the first swap. The Japanese quilters decided they would like to participate and a new doll quilt swap was born.


    One of the reasons I've been interested in doll quilts is the variety of styles and patterns I've seen. Quilters aren't afraid to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. I love the modern and sometimes abstract approach quilters use when creating doll quilts. From traditional block designs to improvised creations, doll quilts are a fun way to express your artistic abilities and hone your craft.

    If you haven't tried a doll quilt, you owe it to yourself to give it a whirl. As quilters are well familiar, it is such a good feeling to finish a quilt. A doll quilt goes together quickly and you won't have huge time or money investments. What you will have is an adorable doll quilt.

    Photo credits: Smithsonian Source, Nebraska Studies

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    About the author:

    Michele Lancaster is a Florida native and shares her home with her husband, teenage son and daughter, and miniature Dachshund, Bones.

    By day, she runs Graphics Cafe, Inc., a small graphic design firm specializing in corporate branding and creative marketing. Her bold use of color and design has garnered numerous awards within the advertising industry.

    A lifelong fascination with collecting vintage textiles turned into a quilting and sewing hobby in 2007 when Michele decided to sew her first quilt, a postage stamp pattern. The tiny pieces didn't deter her and before long she was trying everything. She loves scrap quilts, traditional patterns using non-traditional fabrics, small quilts, and practicing new techniques.

    Her love of quilts can also be attributed to the two quilts her great grandmothers made her parents. Although they weren't around to teach her to sew, she believes she must possess some sort of family quilting gene.

    Michele has released an e-book called "How to Make a Doll Quilt" which shows how to make a doll quilt from start to finish. Be sure to check it out.

    Her user ID on the message board is Chele. Feel free to ask her any questions.
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