Commemorative quilts celebrate special events, honor special people, and mark the passage of important events in everyday life. Marriage is one of those special events around which the lives of women, historically at least, have revolved, so it makes sense that quiltmakers would honor that event with gifts of quilts. Because of the significance of marriage, there is also much lore around the making and gifting of wedding quilts.
Did young women leave home with twelve or thirteen quilts as part of their dowry? Is it true that the first person who fell asleep under a group-made quilt would dream of their future husband or wife? Does the presence of hearts on a quilt signify that it was made for a wedding? Were Double Wedding Ring quilts common wedding gifts? Does the name of a pattern imply its commemorative purpose? The answer to all of these questions is that they are folklore—there may be some truth to them, but quilts made for weddings are difficult to identify unless they carry verifiable provenance, and some of these have been proven as myths. Many European cultures do have traditions of making quilts for weddings.
It is also true that families who could afford to sent their daughters into marriage with quilts, but the number was often two or three rather than a dozen. 18th- and 19th-century diaries and household accounts show that mothers helped make or parents purchased quilts for their daughters’ new homes along with the other linens, furnishings, and kitchen items she would need for the first few years. Quilting parties were sometimes held around the time of a daughter’s marriage and before she left home to move in with her new husband to help complete quilts.
Quilts more easily identifiable as wedding gifts are likely to come from the 20th century when the recipients or makers are still alive to identify them or when, as is much more common in the last thirty years, the maker placed a label on the quilt. Also common at the end of the century are anniversary quilts made to commemorate the stability and endurance of a marriage.