By: Erin Mayers
Patchwork Quilting goes back many years. Examples of quilting have been found in tombs of Pharohs dating back to 3400BC. Joseph's coat of many colors was probably patchwork. Even armour was made by quilting heavy fabrics together. Quilted bed covers were recorded in household inventories from the 17th century. Patchwork quilting has even evolved into an art form known as art quilts. The Amish have developed the quilting traditions of other immigrants into America, into their own style.
Emigrants from Europe took their traditions of making quilts from scraps with them to America. Ideas and designs and even fabrics were exchanged across the Atlantic. The Log Cabin Quilt Design that was originally known in Ireland as the Folded Quilt Design, was a good way of using small scraps of fabric to create a very practical piece of art. It is doubtful if women quilters viewed their creations as art, it is much more likely they were simply seen as a quilt to cover a bed and provide warmth, albeit still a beautiful item. Crazy quilts are made from randomly stitching together odd pieces of cloth. In colonial times all cloth had to be shipped from Europe at great expense so nothing could be wasted.
A patchwork quilt was never regarded as being finished until it had been quilted. Quilting combined the three layers of the quilt - the backing, the wadding and the pieced top together, so the woollen or cotton wadding would be held in place. Quilting was a time consuming yet essential task as it provided a hard wearing warm durable quilt that had cost very little as it was made of the scraps from other projects.
Quilting is generally regarded as a female pastime since traditionally men did not learn to sew, while sewing was an essential skill for a young woman. Quilting was also a social pastime. Women would gather together to piece the top together and while they worked they would exchange gossip and tales. Sometimes after a quilting party the men would join the women for supper and often romances would begin.
Lives are displayed in traditional patchwork quilts. Part of the dress of a dead child or part of a cherished Father's shirt could be pieced in to allow the maker to hold her memories. Quilts have been made over years, lifetimes or even generations. Telling the tales of women's lives though embroidery, color and embellishment.
One group of special mention is the Amish, a religious group who migrated to America in the 1800s'. Quilting was not a skill they bought to America, but rather a skill they learnt from ex-English neighbours in their new land. In Amish societies, a simple life is a core belief and continues to be today avoiding modern mechanisation. While they do use a treadle-operated sewing machine to piece their quilts together the quilting is always done by hand.
The Amish do not use patterned fabrics in their quilts, the piecing patterns they use readily distinguish Amish quilts from other varieties of patchworking. The patterned fabrics are considered to worldly for use in a conservative Amish home. Some Amish quilts do not even use pieced tops; the only pattern is the intricate quilting designs. For an Amish woman an elaborately quilted design is not extra work but a creative outlet.
Traditionally Amish quilts were made from scraps left from clothes or recycled fabrics. This is another Amish value to waste as little as possible. Characteristically Amish quilts will have borders (almost always at least one and usually two) added because they increase the size and frame the pieced design. Borders are cut conservatively on the grain so as not to waste fabric. The inner border is cut from strips of cloth with a square in the corner to join it. Mitre corners or bias cut borders are rarely used as this wastes fabric. Often the quilts are bordered simply by cutting the backing larger, allowing it to be folded over.
Amish quilts are very striking despite their simplicity. This is usually due to the colors used. Although it is commonly believed that there are color restrictions in Amish quilts, this does not appear to be true. The only restriction is what is available to the quilter and the quilter's own color sense. Typically an Amish quilt will feature two or three dominant colors with an accent color, e.g. Slate blue, black and deep mauve. White is not often used as it is hard to keep clean.
For the wider quilting enthusiast population, quilting has evolved into more of an art form. While traditional patchwork relies on pattern and color to create an image. Art quilts (or water color quilts) are more like painting with fabric than traditional patchwork designs.
Art quilts range in size but generally they are more often seen hanging on a wall rather than on a bed. There is no form of embellishment that is forbidden in Art Quilting, if you can imagine it you can use it. Because of these rather vague boundaries this is the perfect art form, for any creative fabric artist.
There are many groups for modern quilters to join and sell their works. The internet provides an excellent medium for groups to collaborate with each other to create a quilt together. Thanks to T.V. shows, Quilting is reaching a wider audience and is no longer viewed solely as a women's pastime. Quilts and quilting have never been more popular.
About the Author:
Erin Mayers is the fashion designer of Costumes Direct Limited. She has a great interest in making quilts. The web site www.readymadequilts.com is a marketing arm of Costumes Direct Ltd
Erin Mayers: http://www.readymadequilts.com
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