Colonialism / Imperialism

White settlers, mostly European, have colonized huge swaths of the globe over the centuries and quilts have often come along for the ride. Indeed, quilts originally arrived in North America with colonists, mainly British.

Once here, white settlers moved across the continent, encountering native peoples along the way. Through these contacts Native Americans began to use western textiles, such as woven blankets and quilts, rather than animal furs to keep warm. The huge mid- to late-19th century westward migrations of European Americans included Christian missionaries, many of whom taught native women to sew and do patchwork. In this way, Native Americans began to make their own quilts.

One style of quilt adopted by the Great Plains Lakota people is the Morning Star, similar to Star of Bethlehem or Lone Star. In the 1880s, Lakota women began making these pieced quilts and adding their own symbolism, such as eagles, feathers, and bison to them. They have become an integral part of Lakota gift-giving ceremonies honoring births, deaths, marriages, and even sports competitions.

Native Hawaiian Islanders first encountered white sailors in the late 18th century. Soon thereafter, Christian missionaries from New England and the Mid-Atlantic began arriving and setting up schools throughout the islands where sewing and other skills were taught to the natives. One style of quilt that white settlersparticularly from Pennsylvaniamight have brought with them is fold-and-cut, or scherenschnitte, quilts; this style is believed to be a possible origin of the typical Hawaiian quilt format: a single, large appliqued floral design on a solid ground. Another hallmark Hawaiian quilt design is the flag quilt, which celebrated Hawaii’s independence (prior to Queen Lili’uokalani’s 1893 forced abdication) and which continued to be made well after the United States annexed the islands in 1898.