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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Quilting Originated In Ancient Times

Quilting, process of stitching together two layers of fabric filled with some soft substance (usually cotton) to form a kind of textile sandwich. This quilted fabric is most often used for a bed covering called a quilt, but is also used for clothing, upholstery, and decoration.

The top layer of a quilt bears a design, which is generally produced in one of three ways. The fabric may be left plain, so that the quilting stitches form the design.

More commonlyog quilting, the top is appliquéd: Pieces are cut from various cloths and stitched onto a background fabric, making pictures and patterns. Tops may also be pieced or patched in a process called patchwork: Units of cloth are sewn together edge to edge to form a fabric with geometric patterns.

The term quilting actually refers to the final stage of assembly, when the quilt's three layers, stretched on a frame, are sewn together with short running stitches, called quilting stitches. This final step is more than mechanical: The design of the top is artfully thrown into relief, allowing the play of light and shadow on the surface.

Quilting originated in ancient times. The Chinese and Russians and the Native Americans of Mesoamerica wore quilted garments for warmth and protection. Crusaders from western Europe encountered quilting when they met Saracens in the Holy Land. Saracen foot soldiers wore straw-filled, quilted canvas shirts in lieu of armor, and horsemen used quilted silk undershirts to keep their armor from chafing.

The Crusaders took the idea back to Europe and adapted it for sleepwear and undergarments. Written records of quilts date from the 12th century. Being made of perishable materials, few early quilts have survived. The earliest extant example—of embroidered, coarse linen—is from the 15th century. Most quilts of this period were made either by the quilting stitch or by appliqué.

The earliest surviving patchwork quilt is from England, the 17th-century Levens Hall quilt, made of imported Indian chintzes. The high quality of the design indicates that it was not the first of its type. Fine quilting was done on coats, caps, and petticoats.

The first quilts in America were brought by Dutch and English colonists and were made by appliqué. It was the patchwork quilt, however, that reached its highest artistic development in the United States. As a result of scarce sewing materials and a need for artistic expression, pioneer women lavished great attention on ingenious geometrical designs. Many quilts were signed and dated.

Quiltmakers regularly exhibited their quilting work in fairs and international expositions; prizes were awarded for craft and innovations in design and color. By 1883, handmade quilts were on three-quarters of the beds in the country.

With the advent of inexpensive machine-made bed coverings, however, quiltmaking declined in the early years of the 20th century, except in rural areas. In the 1960s, interest in quilting—both as a handicraft and as an art form—revived.

Anne Ahira
Editor The Best Affiliate Newsletter