About World War I Quilts

quilt from WWI

What role did World War I quilts play in the Great War?

I think we can all agree that “war is Hell.” None more so than a world war. In general, men went off to fight and women stayed back to guard the home front. However, the women did not remain idle.  During World War I, “most women were barred from voting or serving in military combat roles. Many saw the war as an opportunity to not only serve their countries but to gain more rights and independence. With millions of men away from home, women filled manufacturing and agricultural positions on the home front. Others provided support on the front lines as nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, translators and, in rare cases, on the battlefield”. (See footnote 1.)

However, even women who followed more traditional roles during the Great War greatly contributed to the war effort. For example, they limited the consumption of meat, wheat and fats in their households. They grew their own vegetables and followed the mantra to “make do and mend“. They knitted socks and blankets for the soldiers fighting the war. Most of all, they bolstered the morale of their families at home and their loved ones overseas.

And they quilted! Many women turned to their quilt-making skills in response to the war. They created wonderful quilts and textiles that reflected the war and added to the war effort. By doing so, they were able to rouse the patriotic spirit in their countries and also raise funds to support the Red Cross. This was one of the greatest benevolent efforts of the 20th century.

Exhibitions dedicated to WWI quilts

Fortunately, many of the World War I quilts have been carefully preserved in museums around the world.

A recent exhibition at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, featured the outstanding Sue Reich Collection of World War I quilts. It is well worth a look.

In addition, “Red Crosses and White Cotton:  Memory and Meaning in First World War Quilts” by historian Rebecca Beausaert is an excellent account of quilting efforts in rural Ontario, Canada, during WWI .  

Also, quilt historian Barbara Brackman highlights a number of interesting World War I quilts in her blog post.

Even Newfoundland and Labrador participated in this movement.  You can read about their commemorative WWI  quilts in this news article from the CBC published in 2017. 

See more quilting news articles from Red Bridge Quilts. 

1. “Women in WWI”, theworldwar.org, National WWI Museum and Memorial, https://www.theworldwar.org/learn/women

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