International Quilt Museum


Date of this Version



Presented at the 4th Biennial Symposium of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum: The Global Quilt: Cultural Contexts, Lincoln, Nebraska, April 2-4, 2009. Copyright © 2009 Laurann Gilbertson.


Quilts and quiltmaking have been closely connected to the religious identities of Norwegian-American women and to churches in the Midwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Lutheran Church was an important institution, socially as well as religiously, for many Norwegian-American families. Through Kvindeforening, or Ladies Aid, women learned to make quilts, practiced English, built and maintained social relationships, and sold quilts and textiles to fund local, national, and global projects. Immigrant women followed the churches’ teachings to avoid ostentatiousness by making quilts that, in the early years, were more modestly beautiful. Some quilts made by devout Norwegian Americans show evidence of faith in imagery and language with embroidered scenes from the Bible and Bible verses in Norwegian. Some quilts are best understood within a religious context, like temperance quilts and fundraising quilts that became cherished records of church members because theological disputes were splitting congregations and communities. This presentation explores quilts made by Norwegian immigrants and their descendants within the framework of religion. I will focus on quilts made by women in the American Midwest before about 1935. I’ve used published and unpublished diaries, letters, and memoirs, as well as the histories of artifacts in collections such as Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.