Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


Date of this Version

Summer 7-2011


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Textiles, Clothing & Design, Under the Supervision of Professor Patricia Cox Crews. Lincoln, Nebraska: July 2011

Copyright 2011 Madeleine Roberg


This study examines the size of quilts to determine if changes in quilt size are a reflection of changes in bedstead size. To conduct this study 118 quilt publications and 304 furniture publications (including Sears, Roebuck and Co. retail catalogues). were examined for data on quilts and bedsteads. Using these sources the dimensions of 3299 surviving quilts and 1651 bedsteads were examined to determine whether or not changes in quilts sizes correlate with changes in bedstead dimensions. The study found that quilt size (mean area) steadily declined between 1800 and 1910 and increased in the 1920s and 1930s. The most significant decline in quilt size occurred between the 1850s and 1860s, confirming what other scholars had previously noted but not studied. Meanwhile, bedsteads gradually increased from 1790 to 1870 before declining sharply in size in the 1880s. Consequently, a positive correlation did not exist between quilt size and bedstead size from 1790 to 1939. The largest mean area of quilts occurred in the 1800s while the largest mean area of bedsteads occurred in the 1860s and 1870s. The significant decrease in quilt size between the 1850s and 1860s may be due to a shift from an upper-class pastime to a working-class pastime as fabric became widely available and a change in the quilts context on the bed. Instead of serving as the primary top cover it might now be used more often underneath a white counterpane or sheet. The decrease in quilt size could also be that quilts were no longer placed on the best bed in the house but were now used for secondary beds, including those of servants. Explanations for the increase in size in the 1920s and 1930s could be the popularity of quilt patterns and kits and the use of feedsacks. Forty-five percent of the quilts had a directional element. These included motifs, borders (on less than four sides), corners, inscriptions and an asymmetrical design format. Twenty-five percent of the quilts were square.

Adviser: Patricia Cox Crews