Sunday, February 27, 2011

Women's history moment: engagement quilts

I slept and read books all day yesterday as I was recovering from the nasty stomach bug. While I was reading A History of the Wife by Marilyn Yalom, I came across a passage about engagement quilts. In her chapter on "Victorian Wives on Both Sides of the Atlantic," she writes:
During the engagement period, the making of a quilt by the bride's friends gave official recognition to the betrothal. Whether they lived in the South, the North, Midwest, or West, quilters participated in a utilitarian activity that had become, by the mid-nineteenth century, a communal ritual and a fine art. First they would make certain design decisions together, such as the size and color scheme. Then each woman would make a square or "block" and sign it with her name in ink or embroidery, before all the finished blocks were sewn together to make the quilt top. A quilt backing was stretched out on a frame, covered with cotton batting, which was then covered with the quilt top. Decorative stitching through the three layers held them in place. Referred to as "engagement quilts" or "bride's quilts," they were intended to last a lifetime and to be handed down to one's descendants. (p. 209)
I was struck by how similar this process was to the birth quilts I made for Dio and this new baby. It's fascinating to see how women's traditional practices become revived and reinvented--unknowingly, in my case.

And I can't leave out mention of this lovely birth quilt I linked to years ago...just because it's so beautiful.


  1. I am so glad to see you are feeling better, physically and mentally. Hopefully you have another peaceful day. Every pregnancy is an interesting journey, huh?

  2. I'm glad you're feeling better -- your last few posts did not sound like you at all!

    I've read your recent posts on vertical birth with great interest because despite all my expectations, I ended up birthing lying on my left side. I can't imagine my legs having held me up.

    Oh, and if you're in the mood for something lighter, check out Barbara Michaels' book Stitches in Time -- it's a gothic mystery/romance about an engagement quilt from the 1700s. (Barbara Michaels is a pseudonym of Elizabeth Peters, the Egyptologist and Amelia Peabody writer).

  3. Side-lying is actually a great position, too, because it's gravity neutral, doesn't compress the sacrum, and allows you to give birth when you're totally exhausted (plus it's easy to do even with epidurals and won't generally freak the hospital staff out!).

    I just ILL'd that book--light is good!


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