When speaking about the history of the comforter, what we are really discussing is the history of the quilt. Quilts are the original bed cover, typically made from scraps of material or old discarded clothing.
Before the quilt, the top cover of the bed was traditionally linen, burlap sacks stuffed with straw or nothing at all but the clothes on your back. Sounds depressing and cold! Enter the quilt…originally not created with beauty in mind, they soon were pieces of showmanship and used as bragging rights among early women.
The earliest known quilt dates from the first century B.C. to the second century A.D.. It is actually in the form of a quilted linen carpet. The form of quilting known today as “patchwork quilting” was not did not become the main form of quilting until the mid 19th century.
Patchwork quilting is designed from pieces of fabric, pieced together into blocks and these blocks are sewn together to form one big quilt.
This top is then combined with cotton or wool batting and a fabric backing to make a “quilt sandwich” which is then joined together by the process of using thread to connect all three layers. Typically today this quilting is done in some sort of motif or design, which was not that common in the beginning.
During the industrial age and the invention of new technologies, the ability to mass market fabrics which freed up the women from spinning and weaving their own fabric and increased the popularity of quilt making. Once mass marketing was introduced, then handmade quilts soon became the comforters we know today. The industry took the idea of design and function to new levels. Today we enjoy beautiful designs as well as keeping warm without all the arduous labors of hand making our own covers!
Quilts have also become important socially. During the civil war, quilts were used as well as many other craft pieces to raise money to help in the movement to abolish slavery. There are even stories that certain quilts were used as signals in the underground railroad, but today these still remain rumors as no proof of this seems to exist. They were also used to raise money for the war. Today the Aids Memorial Quilt is probably one of the most famous quilts in history. The quilt is used to raise awareness for Aids and as a memorial to those who have succumbed to the disease.