There is a common belief that quilting originated in utilitarianism rather than decoration. But in Colonial times most women spent their days spinning, weaving and making clothing. Meanwhile women of the wealthy classes prided on their fine quilting of wholecloth quilts. Both their trapunto and broderie perse were considered fine needlework.
The origins of this method of craft are thought to be in the Crusades, when soldiers needed warmth as well as protection from the chafing caused by heavy armour. Additionally, there are ancient Egyptian sculptures showing figures which appear to be wearing clothing which is quilted, possibly for warmth in the chilly desert evenings.
Quilting is used in the making of a garment called a gambeson
In modern times, art quilts have started to become popular for their aesthetic, artistic qualities rather than for functionality (i.e. they may hang on a wall instead of lying on a bed).
The most basic form of quilting is a simple geometric grid sewn either by hand or nowadays by machine. The gridwork of stitches traps air in the material, making it much warmer than a single layer of fabric would be, or even the layers separately.
Quilting can also be used as a form of elaborate decoration, where the stitchery creates complex designs and patterns, with or without the use of colour. Designs in the original fabrics can be put together to form new patterns.
The process of making a quilt involves three steps: piecing, layering, and binding. Piecing is the sewing of the quilt top. Layering places the quilt's backing, batting, and top in place. The main function of quilting is to hold the three layers together. Binding completes the quilt by finishing the edges with a trim of fabric.
While a majority of quilt tops are pieced, many are made from a single piece of fabric. Using the latter enhances the intricacy of detailed quilting.
Quilters are cooperative people. They exchange fabrics or quilt blocks with each other.
They also frequently gather in larger groups (sometimes called "quilting bees") to collectively apply the gridwork of quilting.
Quilters may also attend Quilt Guild meetings in their local area. Many quilt guilds meet monthly and feature lectures and other activities. http://www.quiltguilds.com/
Quilters are usually very charitable, giving away many of the beautiful projects to loved ones and to organizations which then redistribute the quilts to children's hospitals, crisis centers, and similar groups.
Quilts are often made to commemorate events (e.g. weddings and births) and can incorporate pieces of fabric from used or worn-out clothing. Such quilts become historical documents for the quiltmaker and his or her loved ones.
Quilting is an excellent educational tool. It requires students to use mathematical, geometric, spatial, artistic and manual skills. It can be used in conjunction with any unit of study (examples would be to make a pictorial quilt that depicts a story the class is reading, or a particular event in history). It can be made age-appropriate by choice of materials (paper, fabric, etc.) and complexity of design.
Quilters have embraced the use of technology and the Internet to reach other quilters and to share quilting practices and how-tos.