America's Quilting History: Union & Confederate Quilts for Fundraising & Soldiers

Yankee Brooke

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Jun 8, 2018
One of the biggest ways women helped from home was by making quilts! Many of these ended up sent to their soldier loved ones, as a keepsake and reminder of home, that could also function as a way to keep them warm, as a second, or for many(especially Confederates), only blanket.

At first family quilts were donated but very quickly women begun to produce quilts specifically for the war effort. The military had requested that quilts be made about seven feet by four feet, the convenient size for a military cot and bedding pack. Many quilts were made from available fabrics and sometimes quilts were made by cutting up two existing bed quilts and sewing them into three cot quilts. Eventually money had to be raised to buy the fabric to make soldiers' bedding as existing materials were used up. By the end of the war it is estimated that over 250,000 quilts and comforts had been made for Union soldiers.​
Southern women were somewhat hindered in producing bedding for soldiers because they did not have a tradition of sewing for causes and the wealthier women were used to having slaves to do the everyday sewing. Nevertheless many of these women learned to sew and pitched in to help their soldiers. Once prewar textiles were used up fabric became scarce. The South could not get goods in through their ports and had no real manufacturing base of their own. Calico was said to cost as much as $25 a yard toward the end of the war. Eventually women had to make homespun fabric, a much slower process. Old mattresses were torn apart for fiber to spin. Even carpets were cut up and made into blankets for soldiers.​
We sometimes had to get creative though...

Others were donated to auctions, to be a prize and help raise money for soldier's and veteran's causes:
Great Fairs For the Northern Cause

Great fairs were held in the North and quilts were among the more expensive items made and donated. Craft bazaars were already a way to raise funds for churches and other causes. Most of the items sold involved sewing. Now that effort went to the war.​
Although there were some who frowned on the idea of women being involved in any commercial venture patriotism won out as fairs became more and more elaborate. Women created beautiful quilts often of fine fabrics like silk. Album quilts and Flag quilts were popular styles. There is even mention of silk Log Cabin quilts. These fairs brought in a great deal of money to help buy needed supplies for the Union.​
Even Uncle Sam had trouble supplying everything to her boys. Women were needed to help fill those gaps! Imagine quilting something so costly, elaborate, and time consuming, without reaping any tangible reward or financial gain? That's dedication if I ever saw it. I can't quilt, but darn that's definitely NOT an easy thing to do.

Also I get a bit frustrated with the misogyny of the day. "Frowning upon" women trying to help a cause simply by doing what they'd be doing anyway/otherwise be allowed to do, no questions asked...we're not asking to be handed muskets and put on the line, just let us make some blankets for the boys!

Gun Boat Quilts for the South

Southern women did what they could to help buy desperately needed gunboats. Excitement was high as communities competed to raise money for this urgent cause. Beautiful Gunboat Quilts* were made. Some of these displayed elaborate medallion style floral arrangements cut from printed fabric. The motifs were cut out and appliquéd to solid fabric. This method is called broderie perse and requires very fine sewing skills. Through fairs, raffles and donations southern women raised enough money to pay for three of these ironclad gunboats.

During the spring of 1862 the enthusiasm for this confederate project waned when naval defeats made it likely that seaports would fall to the enemy. It was decided that the funds should go for medical supplies for soldiers instead. The war would continue for three desolating years with southern women's energy going primarily to help their soldiers.​

Not to be outdone by their Yankee counterparts, the Confederate ladies got in on it too. It's a shame they didn't get the gunboats after all, but that must have bought A LOT of medical supplies! I'm sure that was a tangible help to the cause, even if not originally what was intended.

Unfortunately, this contribution is often overshadowed by big battles and troop movements, lost to history, much like most of the quilts produced.

Just a very few of the quilts made for soldiers have survived. As you can imagine these quilts got a great deal of wear and probably did not seem worth saving after the war. Many completely wore out. If you add to that the fact that many soldiers were buried in their quilts you can understand why these quilts are extremely rare today.​