WW2 Quilters: Fighting with Needles and Thread

“Women who stepped up were measured as citizens of the nation, not as women. This was a peoples’ war, and everyone was in it.”   – Olivia Culp Hobby, engraved on WWII Memorial in DC


With pride, thousands of women signed up for military service after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But, millions of women stayed on the home-front during the war. Their battle tools took on the forms of welding wands, plows, hoes, canning jars, typewriters and mathematical equations. Each person matched their talents with the task needing to be done. No slackers allowed.

The needle and thread wielded by quilt makers turned fabric into a war weapon. Money earned from the sale of quilts bought war bonds. Snuggly comforters wrapped wounded soldiers in love from the homeland. Utilitarian blankets filled the boxes of Bundles for Britain on the way to warm a refugee or displaced person overseas. Quilts fought discouragement.

Many quilts were stitched with striking patriotic patterns, such as the V for Victory.  These red, white and blue fabric masterpieces infused hope and perseverance in all who viewed them. The Red Cross was beneficiary to hundreds of thousands of these hand-made symbols of resistance. Few quilts survived the war, because they were used and appreciated.

Governor Herbert O’Conor spoke on June 6, 1942 in words that the quilters understood. “Let us never forget for a moment that the military effort goes hand-in-hand with the civilian one. No battle in any part of the world can take place without involving us. Here at home we must drive toward victory. Here at home we must take and maintain an unrelenting offensive. Here at home we must hew the wood and carry the water for the rebuilding of a triumphant peace. “The home-front women warriors needed to do their part to back up their military men and win the war.


Most of the quilts made during the war were created from crazy blocks using remnants- furnishing fabrics, dress fabrics, scraps, or feedsack material.  The backing material was either striped or plain flannelette. The hand-quilting patterns reflected wartime constraints on time. The stitches were pulled through with haste, using a double dog trail, fan, concentric semicircles, parallel lines on the diagonal, or, in the interest of speed, very big-stitch quilting. The pressure to bring thousands of finished quilts is seen in the ones that survived the war, showing how women tried valiantly to bind up the fragmented pieces of a nation.

Smithsonian: https://www.si.edu/object/1965-1975-welthea-thodays-world-war-ii-friendship-quilt:nmah_556260

Intended for service rather than sentiment, the quilts of the women of this country wrapped around the men that they loved as they fought on foreign soils. Or lay in hospitals. Or recuperated at home. Thousands of the pieced beauties sailed with the Red Cross across the submarine-haunted Atlantic to warm the souls of war weary populaces. These quilts fought the war’s depression with their stitched-in love and warmth.

How does a nation fight a war? Some use a needle and thread.

“The two things you need most in making quilts are plenty of patience and a warm iron.”   Bertha Stenge, Chicago quilt maker during WWII

For more photos, check out this blog: http://www.coveringquilthistory.com/ww-ii-benevolent-quiltmaking.php

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