In the 1800s, quilting bees became a social event for women. When a woman left for points west, many times she would never see her friends or family again. Sometimes a group of women would assemble and make a friendship quilt for the woman who was leaving to remember them by. Often, a single woman was accompanying the pioneers west, and her friends and family would make a quilt for her hope chest so that when she was married, she and her new husband would have the quilt.
In the new home, quilts could be used to hang at window openings or within the cabin for privacy. The quilts also provided a bit of home in a strange land. Sometimes, women would send letters with bits of material from a dress they'd made and these would be made into quilt blocks, then into quilts.
In the new homesteads, winters were long. Women would often assemble quilt blocks over the winter and then, in the spring when the weather warmed up, meet and assemble the quilts together. These events were big social occasions. Often, only expert women would gather to quilt something for a specific occasion, such as a birth or a wedding. But usually, all women were welcome to participate in the quilting bee. The women had a chance to catch up and laugh. The husbands had a chance to socialize and the children could play. At the end of the day, the women would break to make dinner and frequently the bee was followed by a dance.
Many of these quilts did not survive. The main reason is that these quilts were meant to be used. They simply wore out. Conditions were harsh in the new homesteads. Dust, floods, fires, all destroyed quilts. But many of them were handed down and still remain cherished heirlooms in families today.