Friendship quilts, also called signature quilts or album quilts, date back to the 1800’s. Earliest signature quilts tended to feature ink signatures and elaborate verses. By the Civil War, blocks tended to have shorter inscriptions, sometimes only with a signature and possibly a city or date. Many Civil War era signature quilts still exist. By the 20th century, names were often embroidered directly onto the quilt block.
Friendship quilts were created for many reasons. Sometimes a family was leaving the area and this was a way to take memories of their friends and family with them. Oftentimes a friendship quilt was used as a fundraiser for a church or local organization. Friendship quilts have also been created for family events: reunions, weddings, or as a present for grandparents.
This set of quilt squares contains embroidered signatures of children and women of Athelstan, Iowa. Two clues on the quilt help date this piece to December 1934. The piece stitched by Nellie Morris states ‘To Doris, From Mother’ and includes the year ‘1934’ in the Sunbonnet Sue’s bonnet. Another square created by Eva Marie Byrns for her daughter, Leona, includes Leona’s age of ’18 months’. Leona (possibly one of the last people living from this collection of names) shared in an email that her birthday is in June, thus placing the squares as a December gift.
Womenfolk.com is an excellent site for more detailed history on friendship quilts. See them at: http://www.womenfolk.com/quilting_history/friendship.htm
Another terrific site, for researching signature quilts is: http://karenquilt.blogspot.com/2009/11/researching-signature-quilts.html
These names and clues, stitched into calico squares, often preserves a history or a small slice of time, recorded forever in the fabric base.