Hist-of-Quilt-art - 3/30/99
"History of Quilting". A set of quilting and applique notes for a class taught by Lady Bianca Rose Byrnes. She resides in the Barony of Eskalya, Principality of Oertha, Kingdom of the West.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called StefanÕs Florilegium.
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Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
History of Quilting
A series of notes and bibliography for a class
taught by Lady Bianca Rose Byrnes.
1. 2. The quilting of cloth came into being when the people who invented
weaving reasoned that two or even thee thicknessÕ of cloth would be warmer
than one thickness.
1. 2. Crusaders found that the quilted shirts worn by the Arabs in the Near
East when worn as an undergarment beneath chain mail prevented chafing more
effectively that the shirts of single layers of cloth they had always worn.
1. 2. These quilted shirts, when brought back to Europe, suggested the bed
quilt to European women.
1. 2. A change in the Gulf Stream brought a period of bitter cold winters to
western and southern Europe during parts of the 13th and 14th centuries. The
use of warmer clothing and bedding than had been used previously became
imperative during these cold periods.
1. Queens quilted in their palaces and peasant women quilted in their
cottages. Some of the many beautiful quilting patterns were developed at
this time. Since then, these beautiful patterns have been handed down from
one generation to the next (many without substantial changes) to the present
day. The ancient patterns were simple ones at first. As women became more
expert at this new needlecraft, elaborate patterns were worked out by the
seamstresses. As styles changes and became more or less intricate, so the
quilting patterns changed to conform.
One of these ancient patterns, the Princess' Feather, originally called the
Prince' 5 Feather, was copied from the coat of arms of the original Prince
of Wales who became Edward II of England in 1307. It was developed in the
shires of Northumberland and Durham where variations of the basic pattern
were handed down from mother to daughter as family heirlooms. Each family
had its own traditional feather form and manner of using it.
1, European quilts were usually part of matching sets called bed furniture.
These sets consisted of quilts, bed curtains, canopies, and what are now
called dust ruffles. All of the pieces of the set were made of the same
fabric, usually a rich, fine velvet, or at least as expensive and
long-wearing a material as the family could afford. They were sometimes
embroidered or appliqued and finally each piece was elaborately quilted.
1. As long as quilts have been made, the techniques of appliquˇing, piecing,
and quilting have been used for many other purposes, such as clothing and
items to beautify every room in the home.
1. One of the most famous of these other purposes was the making of
petticoats for the lovely dresses with divided skirts worn by ladies during
the 1550 to 1800 era. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, tells of a maid servant who
stole his best quilt, ran away, and when found had made it into a
fashionable petticoat. Fancy vest worn by gentlemen during the 1500 to 1800
era were also often quilted.
9. Quotation from "Compendynus Regyment or a Dietary of Health" by Andrew
Boorde, 1542, gives this advise: "Let your nightcap be of scarlet, and this,
I do advertise you, to cause to be made a good thick quilt of cotton, or
else of pure flocks or of clean wool, and let the coverings of it be of
white fustian, and lay it on the featherbed that you do lie on; and in your
bed lie not too hot nor too cold, but in temperance." The above quotation
makes it clear that by the middle of the 16th century raw cotton was
considered as a possible alternative to wool for filling quilts.
9. Straight lines marked for quilting by chalking a cord(rubbing chalk on a
cord) . It was held firmly at one end. A second person pulled the string
tight and then snapped it. (p.111)
9."Scratching" is another way of marking a quilt top. A rowel, needle
inserted into a cork (eye end out) are used to make a mark on the cloth. The
needle is held at a sharp angle and is pressed firmly, leaving a mark like a
crease. Only a small area may be marked this way because the line
9. Tailor's chalk, soap chips, used to draw around templates which may be
made of strong material as metal, leather, household objects such as glass,
saucers, cups, plates, coins.
9. Plain quilts or all-white quilts were made from the 11th century. These
were quilts in which quilting stitches were the sole means of decoration.
These quilts reached their highest development in the 16th and 17th
9."Padded gambesons, so finely made they could be drawn through a ring."
9. The common soldier who couldn't afford armor wore shirts or flax tow
quilted in lozenges - squares or lines between canvas and leather in order
to deflect the force of an arrow.
9. quilting became common on quilted vests and petticoats after 1550.
4."In May 1540 Katherine Howard, afterwards wife of Henry VII I, received
twenty-three quilts of quilted sarsenet out of the Royal Wardrobe, as a sign
of Royal favour." quoted from ENGLISH SECULAR EMBROIDERY, by M. dourdain.
3. One would like to believe that the old Venetian covered their beds with
patchwork which echoed the patterns of the sparkling new floors of their
churches and palaces, but sadly no relics or painted records of any such
quilts survive. Evidence does exist however, which shows that these patterns
were used for patchwork at the time the floors were laid, though not,
perhaps, in Venice. A miniature painting in an illuminated manuscript kept
in the cathedral archives of Oviedo, Spain, and dated 1126- 9, shows a
figure dressed in a robe which can only by patchwork, which is very similar
to the floor from the church of SS Maria and Donato in Murano, which was
built and embellished at roughly the same time. Pg/9
3. Similarly when, in 1561, d. Annam painted a very busy picture of a
tourney at Nuremberg, he dressed a knight's horse and retainer in one of the
patterns most frequently found in Venetian churches, but commonly known as
`tumbling blocks'. p.10
3.trefoil design - St. Marks's hollow lattice design - St. Marks's Many of
the floors are variations of a theme of isometric blocks, or drawn with a
square grid instead of the isometric, it gives a different perspective.
5.A textile craft is fragile, its substance vulnerable to every facet of its
environment, from the elements in the air to the touch of human hands. It is
difficult to trace the history of any needlecraft, for few samples survive
time and wear; and quilting is no exception.
5. The earliest remaining example was sewn in the late fourteenth century,
yet there is evidence of quilting in the more "substantial" art forms of
carving and painting dun several thousand years ago.
5. The middle layer of padding was omitted in the warmer European countries
for obvious reasons; and at some point, possibly around the end of the
fourteenth century, a totally new concept of quilting was born.
5. The best estimate is that raised quilting began on the Mediterranean
island of Sicily. dust as standard quilting grew out of practical needs,
trapunto and subsequent forms of raised quilting developed as decoration for
the garments and furnishings of the wealthier classes.
5. The oldest "living" examples of quilting of any type are a trio of
Sicilian quilts dated circa 1392. These probably were made to be used as bed
covers, but they are so ornately decorated they could easily have been wall
hangings as well. A wedding gift for two of Sicily's aristocracy, Pietro di
Luigi Suicciande and Laodamia Accisiuli, the quilts were elaborately covered
with scenes from the legend of Tristan. They were made of a double layer of
heavy, pieced linen and sewn with linen thread in a back stitch. The three
pieces were unusual in that many of the design figures were stuffed in such
a manner as to create a relief effect similar to other art forms of the
time. The principal figures of people and animals were outlined with brown
thread, to contrast with the natural linen fabric. This also gave them more
emphasis than the secondary figures of leaves and stems which were worked in
natural-colored threads. Designs were raised from the back with tiny pieces
of cotton padding, and small details were stitched after the stuffing was
complete. This may have been the first use of what we now call trapunto.
5. There is not much 15th century quilting left. Literary references,
however indicate that by then in Europe quilting was done on garments, as
well as bed furnishings and armor, both for reasons of comfort and as a
fashion. Stuffed quilting was probably being copied from the Sicilian
techniques in other countries, particularly Germany and England. Legendary
characters and animals and geometric figures, embellished with floral
patterns, were used in most of the designs of the time. A new technique,
called ground quilting, was developed as a device for enhancing designs -
both flat and raised. The flat areas around the designs were filled in with
stitching in various patterns to make the
designs stand out even more.
5. These techniques carried over into the 16th century, and patterns,
fabrics, and quilting uses and methods became even more diverse and
elaborate. >From this period we find the first example of designs raised
with cord, or strips of material. The cording was done on two layers of
fabric, with narrow channels sewn and then filled from the back. This
technique is now known as Italian quilting.
5. Linens appear to have been used almost exclusively in early European
quilting of all types. In the 15th and 16th centuries, however, various
wools and cottons were introduced. Beginning in the 16th century, such
"exotic" materials as Persian silk, lute- string, taffeta, and satin were
brought by traders from the East to European quilting. Backing materials
were of fustian and twilled cotton, as well as linen; and later, sarcenet
and cendal, two soft, fine silks, were used a lining and backing for quilted
II. Applique - a French term, signifying the sewing of one textile over
another. Derived from the Latin applicare, to join or attach, and the French
appliquer, to put on. Anciently referred to as opus consutum or cut work,
passementerie, and Di Commesso. The first name is the most ancient but is
frequently confused with early laces so is not usually referred by that
11. Applique was much practiced from the 13th century to the 17th century.
Italians, Germans, and French use it largely for household items. The
English more for altar cloths and vestments.
11. Being originally introduced as an imitation of the earlier and more
laborious raised embroidery, it embraces every description of work that Is
cut or stamped out, or embroidered, and then laid upon another material. It
Is therefore possible to applique In almost every known material.
11. The Baldachino of Orsanmichele, worked in the 14th century; the Banner
of Strasburq, worked in the 14th century, destroyed In 1870; and the
Blazonment of Cleves are the best old examples. It Is not unusual to find,
amongst medieval woven materials, spaces left open when weaving, Into which
figures of saints and other devices were inserted by the method known as
inlaid applique and finished in fine needle stitching.
11. True Applique is formed by laying upon a rich foundation small pieces of
materials, varied In shade, color, and texture, as so arranged that a
blended and colored design Is formed without the Intervention of complicated
needle stitches. It Is necessary that each separate piece should lie flat
and without a wrinkle. Carefully cut out the pieces to be applied then place
the cut-out pieces In position one at a time, and secure them by sewing down
their edges. Conceal these sewn edges by a gold or silk cord, which lay over
them, and couch down by a stitch brought from the hack of the material and
returned to the back.
11. quilting - this term Is employed to denote Runnings made in any
materials threefold In thickness, i.e., the outer and right side textile, a
soft one next under it, and a lining; the Runnings being made diagonally, so
as to form a pattern of diamonds, squares, or octagons, while serving to
attach the three materials securely together. If a design of any description
be made In tissue paper, and temporarily Tacked upon the right side of the
coverlet, or other article to be Quilted, the Runnings may vary the design
from the ordinary plain crossings. p. 414
11. Flannel is the best middle layer between silk, satin or pique.
11. The diamond-shaped checkers produced In quilting were anciently called
11. In Dr. Daniel RockÕs Textile Fabrics, we read that "At Durham, in 1446,
in the dormitory of the Priory, was a Quilt, cumulus , or Evangelists in
12. The origin of the domestic arts of all nations is shrouded in mystery.
Since accurate dates cannot be obtained, traditional accounts must be
12. Previous to the eleventh century references to quilting are few and
uncertain, but from that time on this art became more and more conspicuous
in the needlecraft of nearly every country in Western Europe. This is
explained by the stimulus which was given to these arts by the specimens of
applique hangings and garments brought from Syria. About the earliest
applied work of which we have records were the armorial bearings of the
Crusaders. A little later came rather
elaborate designs applied to their cloaks and banners.
12. Among other specimens of Old English needlework is a piece of applied
work at Stonyhurst College depicting a knight on horseback. That this knight
represents a Crusader is beyond question since the cross, the insignia of
the cause, is a prominent figure in the ornamentation of the knight's helmet
and shield, and is also prominent on the blanket on the horse. It represents
a knight clad in full armor, mounted on a spirited galloping horse. The
horse is covered with an elaborately wrought blanket and has an imposing
ornament on his head. The knight wears a headdress of design similar to that
of the horse and, with arm uplifted and sword drawn, appears about to attack
a foe. *
12. This beautiful example of medieval embroidery is thought to date from
about 1320. Stonyhurst College is a famous Jesuit school in northern
12. p. 18-19. Noticeable progress in the arts of both quilting and applique
was made during the Middle Ages in Spain. At the time of King Ferdinand and
Queen Isabella, applied work had long been known. Whether it developed from
imitating garments brought home by the returning Crusaders, or was adopted
from the Moors, who gave the best of their arts to Spain during the 13th and
14th centuries, cannot be positively stated.
12.p.19 During the reign of King Philip II, 1527-1598, the grandees of the
Spanish court wore beautiful iv wrought garments, rich with applied work and
embroidery. A 16th c. hanging of silk and velvet applique, now preserved in
Madrid, is typical of the best Spanish work. It is described as having a
gray-green silk foundation, on which are applied small white silk designs
outlined with yellow cord; alternating with the green silk are bands of dark
red velvet with ornamented designs cut from the green silk, and upon which
are small pieces of white silk representing berries.
12. While the uses of patchwork were known over Europe long before the
Renaissance, some credit its introduction, into Italy at least, to the
Florentine painter, Boticelli (1446-1510) . The applied work, or "thought
work", of the Armenians so appealed to him that be used it on hangings for
church decoration. Under his influence the use of the applied work, opus
conservetum, for chapel curtains and draperies was greatly extended.*
*Julia de Wolf Addison in Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages (London: G.
Bell, 1908), pp. 190-191, states that Botticelli employed two kinds of
applique: one in which linen was embroidered with silks before being applied
to a brocade background, and the other, a simple applique with the raw edges
concealed by a cord. "As an improvement upon painted banners to be used in
procession3, Botticelli introduced this method of cutting out and resetting
colors upon a different ground." Addison adds a note of caution: "it is
hardly fair to earlier artificers to give the entire credit for this method
of work to Botticelli, since such dut work or applique was practiced in
Italy 100 years before Botticelli was born!"
12.p. 21 A homely cousin of the gorgeous opus consevetu, which has filled
its useful though humble office down to the present day, is the heavy
quilted and padded leather curtain used in many Italian churches in lieu of
a door. Many of the church doors are too massive and cumbersome to be opened
readily by the entering worshippers, so they are left constantly open.
Leather hangings, quite thick and quilted with rows of horizontal stitches
are hung before the open doorways.
Preserved during the 14th c. is the tattered fragment of a coat worn by
Edward, the Black Prince, who died in 1376, and which now hangs over his
tomb in Canterbury Cathedral. With it are the helmet and gauntlets be wore
and the shield he carried. The coat is of a red and blue velvet, now sadly
fated, applied to a calico background and closely quilted. It is embellished
with his coat of arms: gold lions and fleurs-de-lis appliqued onto crimson
and blue velvet, and quilted with simple vertical lines. It is too elaborate
to have been made to wear under his armor, and was probably worn during
state functions where armor was not required,
although it was then customary to wear thickly padded and quilted coats and
hoods in order to ease the weight of the heavy and unyielding coats of
12. During the Tudor period, applied work held a prominent place. Vast
spaces of cold palace walls were covered by great wall hangings, archways
were screened, and every bed was enclosed with curtains made of stoutly
woven material, usually more or less ornamented. p. 38
12. The Tudor period was also the time when great rivalry in dress existed.
"The esquire endeavored to outshine the knight, the knight the baron, the
baron the earl, the earl the king himself, in the richness of his apparel."
12 In "Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages," Julia de Wolf Addison describes
a childÕs bed quilt included in an inventory of furniture at the Priory in
Durham in 1446, "which was embroidered in the four corners with the
12. In the "Squire of Lowe Degree, " a 15th century romance, there is
allusion to a bed of which the head sheet is described as embroidered "with
diamonds and rubies bright." *
* Addison, p. 197, from the translation edited by William Edward Mead
(Boston: Ginn & Co., 1904), p. 37.
12. It was during the reign of Henery VIII that the finest specimens of
combined embroidery and patchwork, now preserved in various museums, were
wade. It was really patch upon patch, for before the motives were applied to
the foundation they were elaborately embroidered in intricate designs; and
after being applied, they had their edges couched with gold and silver cord
and ornate embroidery stitches. (p.39)
12. Mary, Queen of Scots, was devoted to the needle and was expert in its
use. Many wall hangings, bed draperies, bedcovers, and house linens are the
work of her skillful fingers, or were made under her personal direction. A
number of examples oft her work are now owned by the Duke oft Devonshire. It
is also said that many of her things were appropriated by Queen Elizabeth
who had little sympathy for the unfortunate queen. (p 40) 12. Hardwick Hall
is intimately associated with Queen Mary's life, and is rich in relics of
her industry. In one row named for her there are bed curtains and a quilt
said to be her own work.
12. Extracts from old letters relating to her conduct during captivity show
how devoted she was to her needlework. An attendant, on being asked how the
queen passed her time, wrote, "That all day she wrought with her needle and
that the diversity of the colors made the work seen less tedious and that
she continued so long at it that very pain over her to give over." (
Jourdain, p. 55-56)
12. There is a fragment of a bed hanging at Harwick Hall said to have been
made by Queen Mary. It is of applied patchwork, with cream-colored
medallions curiously ornamented by means of designs singed with a hot iron
upon the light-colored velvet. The Singed birds, flowers, and butterflies
are outlined with black silk thread. The worked medallions are applied to a
foundation of green velvet, ornamented between and around them with yellow
silk cord. *Jourdain, p 54
12. Black work was constantly used in decorating furnishings for the
bedroom. It was particularly well adapted for quilts, as its rather smooth
surface admirably resisted wear.
12. Get Webster definition of Quilt the verb "to quilt"
12. "Encyclopaedia Britannica" is a little more explicit and also gives the
derivation of the name, quilts, as follows: Probably a coverlet for a bed
consisting of a mass of feathers, down, wool, or other soft substances,
surrounded by an outer covering of linen, cloth, or other material." In its
earlier days the "quilt" was often made thick and sewed as a form of
mattress. The term was also given to a stitched, wadded lining for body
armor. "The word came into English from old French cotre. This is derived
from Latinculcitra, a stuffed mattress or cushion. From the form culcitra
came old French cotra, or coutre whench coutrepointe; this was corrupted
into counterpoint, which in turn was changed to counterpane. The word `pane'
is also from the Latin pannus, a piece of cloth. Thus counterpane', a
coverlet for a bed, and `quilt' are by origin the same word."
14. Crusader cloaks and banners were appliqued.
14. Samuel Pepys - English diarist: "Home to my poor wife, who works all day
like a horse, at the making of her hangings for our chamber and bed" p.
14. Mary Queen of Scots learned applique and quilting from Catherine
de'Medici of the French court.
14.Queen Elizabeth I's wardrobe lists quilted dresses. Inventories - among
the possessions of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leister at Kenilworth in 1584,
were several elaborate quilts, one described as "a faire quilt of crimson
satin. all lozenged over with silver twiste.. fringed about with a small
fringe of crimson silk, lined through with white fustian." p.5 of
Victoria & Albert Museum, Notes on Quilting, (London: McCorquodale & Co.,
V&A Notes on Quilting also say, "The use of the word quilt can be traced
back as far as the 13th century at least, and so the making of quilts in
undoubtedly an old traditional craft of the British Isles." p.6
22.The Romans slept on the floor on a padded pallet that they called a
culcita and from which the modern word "quilt" is derived. In British
medieval literature and household inventories, the culcita had become a
"cowlte" and was used both as an underlay or as a covering for the bed.
10."rich quilt wrought with coten, with crimson sendel stitched with thredes
of gold" (p.18) which is described in the fourteenth-century Romance of
Arthur of bytel Brytayne.
22.There has been a current of exchange between the East and West. From the
times of the crusades, many new and unusual textiles - embroideries, silks,
woven tapestries, and perhaps quilts too - found their way to Europe from
the Middle East and the Orient. Such goods and thinking traveled along the
old Silk Road, the ancient trade route that was made famous to the West by
Marco Polo. It was near this route that the most ancient quilted piece known
to man was found on the
floor of a Scythian chieftain's tomb at Noin-Ula, southwest of bake Baikal
in Russia. It was discovered by a Russian scientific expedition to the
region from 1924 to 1926 and is now in the collection of the Leningrad
branch of the Institute of Archeology of the Academy of Sciences in the
USSR. The Russians date is as being made sometime between 100 BC and AD 200.
22. The decorative quilted motifs on this ancient carpet -the varied
patterns and lively animal appliques - were the Sythian equivalent of the
rich patterns of Persia or China, but they also link this ancient piece to a
modern whole cloth quilt. There is the familiar crosshatching on the
borders, and contour-quilting fills the bodies of the fighting animals. p.3
22. A quilted slipper discarded in a rubbish dump of a fort occupied by a
Tibetan garrison sometime during the 8th century AD on that part of the Silk
Road to the north of the Takiamakan Desert near the present Sino-Russian
border. The top of the slipper was clearly cut from something else because
of the way the pattern is severed at the ankle, perhaps a quilted coat. p.4
22.The hip-length quilted coat worn by the medieval foot soldier was called
a "jack" and was the ancestor of our modern jacket, and also, incidentally,
of the bullet-proof vest, for plates of horn or metal were inserted in the
quilted channels. p.5
23.Quilted armor probably inspired the use of quilted bedcovers. 14th
century - drastic change of weather patterns - quilted bedcovers became a
way of life. First quilting frames were invented, and anything that would
add warmth to the bedcovers made on them was employed for padding; moss,
feathers and even grass were used as well as lamb's wool. Quilted clothing
for everyday use appeared about this time. Evidence exists that quilted
garments were worn at least as early as the beginning of the 15th century.
23. As quilting came to be used for clothing and household articles, it was
seen that the stitching made a kind of surface decoration, and quilting
stitches were soon designed to be more decorative. Scrolls and ornamental
motifs were stitched on caps and gloves and shoes as well as on bedcovers,
and by the end of the fourteenth century, bedcovers - or quilts - were being
decorated with elaborate stitched design depicting knights and kings and
castles, as well as horses, ships and flowers. p.11
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3. Fairfield, Helen. Patchwork From Mosaics: Patchwork From the Stones of
Venice. New York. Arcs Publishing, Inc. 1986.
4. Hake, Elizabeth. English Quilting Old and New. New York: Charles
Schribner's Sons. 1937.
5. Morgan, Mary and Mostelier, Dee. Trapunto and Other Forms of
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6. Fitzrandloph, Mavis. Traditional Quilting It's Story and Practice.
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7. Notes on Quilting, London: Victoria and Albert Museum. 1942.
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E.P. Dutton, 1912.
12 b. Addison, *julia de Wolf. Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages. London:
5. Bell, 1908.
13. Soltow, Willow Ann. Quilting the World Over. Radnor, PA:Chilton Book
14. Bacon, Lenice I. American patchwork quilts. New York: William Morrow and
Co., Inc., 1973.
15. Colby Averil. Patchwork, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,
17. Colby Averil. Patchwork Quilts, New York: Charles Scribner' a Sons,
18. Davenport, Millia. The Book of Costume. New York: Crown
19.Gostelow, Nary. Embroidery: Tradition designs, techniques and patterns
from all over the world New York: ARCO Publishing, Inc., 1983.
20. Kotker, Norman, ed. The Horizon Book of the Middle Ages. New
York:American Heritage/Bonanza Books, 1968.
22. Liddell, dill and Watanabe, Yuko. Japanese Quilts. New York, P.P.
23. MoCalls, Needlework and Crafts Magazine. Mccall's Mccall's Big Book of
Needlework and Quilts. Radnor, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1984.
24. Norris, Herbert. Costume and Fashion. Volume I, Chapter K,
"From Earlist Times to 78 AD" New York, E.P. Dutton and Do,Inc., 1924-1938.
25 Osler, Dorothy. Traditional British Quilts. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.,
26. Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsmen; Embroiderers. Toronto, Buffalo
University of Toronto Press, 1991.
27. Symonds, Mary and Preece, Louisa. Needlework Through the Ages. London:
Fodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1928.
Copyright 1998 by Lady Bianca Rose Byrnes. <bianca at alaskalife.net>
Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided
the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.