Many decades ago the artistic achievements available to women were very limited. Education was deemed inappropriate to their allotted place in life.
Ladies were to function as housekeepers, mothers, and wives only.
In the 17th century school girls learned the basics of the three R’s – reading the Bible and maintaining a budget were sufficient.
Their artistic abilities were directed mainly toward the use of the needle. They were taught the skills applied to samplers, how to mend, create clothing, quilting, and if time allowed embroidery. Embroidery was often reserved for advanced classes to develop skills with the needle.
Every young girl was required to create the aforementioned sampler, and the results were shown to all, especially a suitable suitor. This was believed to encouraged a young man to propose marriage, the ultimate aspiration of a young lady.
The product of all of this trained skills with needle and thread was the elegant folk art these ladies created that has for decades been regarded as worthy of recognition as any work of art.
Long before any needlework pattern catalogs were conceived the sampler was referred to as a reference for needle stitches, numeral and lettering styles, plus diverse topical themes. Many young ladies altered the original samplers needle work to suit her own ideas and originality.
By the mid-18th century the sampler had become the dominant example of the ladies skill with the needle and thread, much as bed coverings and hangings of extraordinary beauty had been in the 17th century.
Then the quilt.
The industrial revolution in the first quarter of the 19th century eased the drudgery of the women-folk and gave them greater advantages. Most men, however, continued to deny the equality of the women.
The needle arts were still the ladies forte.
By mid-century quilting had captured their attention, and had become the most popular needle art form. Ladies of all social settings were creating quilts.
Women providing for a family made the “utility” quilts that were meant to be used for warmth more than as a decorative bed covering, and they created them as rapidly as they could. But they also made their quilts as attractive as possible for their own satisfaction.
Many of these quilts were from standard patterns, but some women were always devising variations from their own natural creative abilities.