The final instruction at the end of the beginners quilt course was, “Make a label to sew to the back of the quilt”. As a newbie to quilt making I did as instructed by Flip & Chris, choosing to create a label by transferring my limited ’embroidery’ skills to the newly revealed world of patchwork and quilting! It has to be the most elaborate label I’ll ever make!
Now, several years into this P&Q passion, I’ve been under the impression that our course tutors and quilt book authors remind us to make and attach labels because that’s the traditional way to complete a quilt. Surprise! Surprise! Doing a little research around the history of quilts I’ve discovered that Victorian quilters didn’t add labels! Many ‘utility’ quilts had no makers mark or information added and other, more decorative quilts, might just have a makers initials and maybe a date embroidered into a corner of a block (or even hidden inside the quilt!).
In the middle of the 19th Century indelible inks became available and writing on quilt tops became popular. ‘Signature’ quilts made of a variety of blocks contained the names of individuals, verses, messages and dates. Whilst the names etc add interest, for modern historians, they can just deepen the mystery of the quilt as there is often no way of discovering if all those named actually made a block or if the quilt was made by one individual as a kind of memory quilt. I first read about signature quilts in a Jennifer Chiaverini novel – I think it was ‘The Runaway Quilt’? If my memory serves me right, in the story this was constructed by local women as a fund raiser. ‘Friendship’ quilts had signed blocks – usually all the same block – sometimes created by lots of people, sometimes created by one person and signed by many.
So, when did quilters begin making labels and sewing them to the backs of quilts? According to Judy Anne Breneman the answer is ‘not until the late twentieth century’! Well! Bless my cotton socks! We are the generation creating a ‘new tradition’ (if you know what I mean!). Most advocates agree the information on a label should include the makers name (and the name of the person who quilted it, if different); date the quilt was finished; and the location where it was made. Additional information could be the recipient’s name; the inspiration behind it’s making; name of the pattern and designer; fabric details; and washing instructions.
This weekend I finished a quilt by sewing a label to the back. My usual method for making labels is far less elaborate than the first one I made! Now I create the wording and chose a font on a computer, print it onto paper and then, with the help of a light box, I use an indelible pen (a link back to those Victorian signature and friendship quilt makers!) to trace the lettering onto calico. A few left-over fabric scraps create a border around the calico before the label is then stitched in place by hand.
More information about the history of marking and labeling quilts can be found at:
Information about modern methods of labeling can be found at:
This includes a link to Diane Knott’s tutorial which is a clear explanation of a similar method to the light box one I use (she uses freezer paper as a stabiliser).
An explanation of how to print labels directly from a computer and some free downloadable labels can be found at:
I think that creating informative labels for our quilts provides a lasting link for families, collectors and historians. Do you add a label to all your quilts? Or maybe only to some? What’s your preferred method for creating labels?
I’d love to hear from you – and maybe see some photos of the labels you’ve made.