The American Civil War devastated the country to such an extent that even the victors faced many years of heartache and distress long after the last battle was over. The reach of the war was so long that quilts made in the years following the war reflected the grief and sorrow of the nation.
One of the most prominent signs of the post-war hardships as evidenced in the making of quilts is with the emerging prevalence of the black quilt as a common item. Most families suffered the loss of a beloved family member to the fighting and other ravages of war and almost every family in America was experiencing a time of mourning.
The traditional color for mourning, then as well as today, is black and there was many a black quilt made after the war during this period of national grieving.
Many American men were sent to war with a quilt from home to keep them warm at night and remind them of the love awaiting their return home. Many quilts, like so many of the valiant men, never returned home.
When surviving family members worked through the rebuilding process after the war, many new quilts were made to replace those that never returned home but grief-stricken quilters frequently felt the festive, decorative works of quilting art they’d lost were just too inappropriate to be replaced in kind when hearts were broken everywhere.
Instead, a colorful quilt was often replaced with a black quilt or quilt of another dark but similarly somber color. Gone were the vibrant and lively colors and patterns of pre-war days and gone were the artful appliqués and other embellishments that were showcased in times gone by.
Once the war was over, the need to rebuild was nationwide. Many women who would have spent their time fashioning beautiful quilts before the war had to abandon the craft in order to direct their time and energy with activities that were deemed more necessary at the time.
Fashions change and today a black quilt is a home-decorating fashion statement, chosen as the striking focal point of many a bedroom across the country. But any time an older black quilt is found, especially one thought to be an antique, it is quite likely it was made during the time of great national sorrow following the Civil War.