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A Brief History of Charm Quilts

by  Robin Brisson

Quilter Studio

I have been dealing with fabric since a child and I am still fascinated by the variety of patterns and colors. Many quilters are making quilts to commemorate the new century and need many assorted prints to help them achieve their goal of  2000 different prints.

 I find both quilters and non-quilters are fascinated by the idea of "CHARM" quilts. So I thought I would share some history with you.

 A charm quilt is different than a regular scrap quilt because no two fabrics are the same. They are generally constructed of a "one patch" design, usually a square, triangle or hexagon. Sometimes the quilter just uses a random design, sewing the rows together as she/he gathered the fabric. Other quilts have very elaborate designs such as trip around the world pattern using the light and dark values of the scraps. A true charm quilt gets its name because a person will cut two patches from the same cloth, keep one and swap the other with a friend. If a quilt has a particular color scheme, say all shades of blue, then it is known as a "Beg and Borrow" quilt. During the 19th century it was common for ladies to write to their friends and include a sample from the dress they were making. Then they could share the letter and fabric with their friends. Charm quilts were traditionally done using just cotton but they were also made with silks, velvets, satins and brocades. These often included elaborate embroidery stitches to showcase needlework skills. You can make a charm quilt with a random number of fabrics or with one that holds a special meaning, like the year of a birth or wedding. There are also other themes, like fabric from different states, just cat fabric or events, like the Bicentennial. You have probably seen quilts done with hexagons out of  "conversation prints", those with pictures of animals, trains, toys, flowers, etc. These are called "Eye Spy" quilts and are used for children, sick beds or for long trips. They are great for classrooms and offices. The maker can include a list with some of the things on the fabric. The fun begins when the person tries to find the fabric listed.  

A common swap quilters use today is by putting two fabric squares together with wrong sides out and lightly marking a line diagonally one square. Sew 1/4 inch on both sides of the marked line. Cut on the marked line. You now have two half square triangles. Keep one and swap the other. One patch is complete with two different fabrics. You can use one very light fabric and write your name on it with permanent ink.  Make several of these and use them for a guild swap. You will then have a "Friendship Quilt".

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy and have fun with your quilting.

© Robin Brisson 2000

 

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