Revolutionary in So Many Ways

1776 Quilt Book, Pam Holland

This amazing book, The 1776 Quilt by Pam Holland, is based on a quilt made in 1776 as Sorbians battled for independence in Prussia.

Last year on the Fourth of July, I shared with you all the interesting things I learned about Betsy Ross. She was so much more than the folk hero who stitched our first flag. An accomplished businesswoman, shop owner, upholsterer, wife, and mother, she was an independent woman in a world that we often consider less liberated than now.

Betsy Ross lived in a unique time. Can you imagine living in 1776, or perhaps being a fly on the wall and witnessing some of the major changes and upheavals that were going on at that time? July 4, 1776 marks the founding of the United States of America, but the decades around that time saw many other revolutions unfolding. There were political revolutions brewing in France, parts of Germany (Sorbia/Prussia,) Haiti, and many other places. The Industrial Revolution was not only changing how goods were produced, but also altering the economic and social fiber of society on every level. Many historians consider it the largest socioeconomic and cultural change since the domestication of animals and crop plants.

Detail JJ Horemans II 1764 cotton apron

This 1764 painting by Horemans shows a server in a print cotton apron.

For fabric lovers, the Industrial Revolution brought an amazing change in the types of fabrics available. The Silk Road trade routes had been moving fabrics from China and India to the Middle East for thousands of years, with major trade into Europe started in the days of the Roman Empire. Silks, cottons, and linens had been in use for generations, largely among the elite. Cotton, the fabric quilters dream about, was imported right up until the middle of the 18th century, when the first industrialized mills appeared. In England, and eventually elsewhere, this meant that only the raw materials were being imported, with the final fabric produced locally. The fabrics that had been reserved for the wealthy were now becoming more accessible for everyone.

These fabrics remained strongly influenced by the countries that had inspired them, from designs to dyes. In England and America, the term calico was common, based on the cloths first imported from Calicut, India. Wool, linen, hemp, and other materials remained in heavy use, but their method of manufacture was also changing. The terms that we use today to describe various fabrics began to evolve. In France, many printed cottons were called indiennes (for India fabrics) or toiles imprentis meaning printed cloth. A website about 18th Century living in Australia, A Woodrunner’s Diary has an interesting list of fabric types and terms from that era. Even the language of fabric had to be revised as the Industrial Revolution moved forward.

India-influenced 1760's fabric design.

A reproduction of an India-influenced fabric from the mid 1700's.

Do you want to create a quilt using fabrics that are close to historically correct for the time of the American Revolution? The interest in living history and historical reenactment means that there are specialized fabric suppliers trying to bring these goods to the market. Most are aimed at clothing reproduction, but many cottons would work well for quilts. Of course, wool would also be an excellent choice for a period quilt. Some sites, such as Reproduction Fabrics, have fabrics as well as a selection of modern fabrics with a similar design. Other sites, like Time Travel Textiles, try to stay true to period with only reproduction fabrics. Hancock’s of Paducah has some fabrics from the Windham Daughters of the American Revolution line. Most of these vendors have a lot of information about historical accuracy of fabric. Search for 18th century reenactments to learn more.

Needle and thread line copyright The Curious Quilter at WordPress dot comPam Holland’s book, The 1776 Quilt; Heartache, Heritage, and Happiness, shown above, brings new perspective to the period of time around the American Revolution. The quilt that originally inspired her book was stitched by Sorbian soldiers as they battled the Prussians in what is now Eastern Germany. That revolt was also in 1776, and Holland’s book is the tale of her research and painstaking re-creation of the original quilt.

Click here for references and bibliography.

Needle and thread line copyright The Curious Quilter at WordPress dot comSignature©2011, The Curious Quilter,,


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
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3 Responses to Revolutionary in So Many Ways

  1. Sarah says:

    I didn’t realize how much of the world was unsettled at the same time! When change comes fast, people get riled up I guess.

  2. Cindy says:

    Thank you for once again providing us with interesting information on the things we love. I learn so much from reading your blog.

  3. Lynda Waller says:

    This is a great article. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

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