Of Quilts and Quilting

Posted: September 13, 2011 - 09:09 , by royal

By Joan Schiff, Chair of the Programs and Events Committee, Friends of Textiles and Costume.

Left: A blue overcoad modeled over the quilted pink petticoat.  Right: Red and yellow flowers quilted on a white background.

Left: Fashionable ladies in 18th century Britain wore quilted petticoats for warmth and beauty. Right: Love Apple is an example of a wedding quilt from the ROM’s collection.

As fall approaches, thoughts of warmer textiles start to dance in my head. Quilting, one of our favourite sewing techniques during the cooler seasons, commonly associated with bedcovers today, has been practiced over centuries to create clothes, wall hangings and other decorative arts. Ancient examples of quilting appear in a first dynasty statue of a pharaoh in the British Museum – he wears a quilted robe.

The technique joins two or more layers of fabric in a decorative manner. Quilts were originally sewn together using pieces of old clothes and household furnishings. Historically the cost of new fabrics made thriftiness a necessity and textiles were often recycled into new quilted creations.

Handmade quilts often depict a narrative and have stories to tell. Records from foundling homes in Britain tell us that women of lower classes forced to give up their babies sometimes wrapped the child in one half of a piece of patchwork embroidered with a heart. The mother kept the other half as a method of identification in case she could later reclaim the child.

In the past, every young girl made a dozen or so quilt tops for her “hope chest” in preparation for married life. Frugality dictated that these were only made into quilts when her engagement was announced. The ROM holds a quilt top in its collection called Love Apple which for many years laid forlornly in a hope chest, never completed. This pattern commonly appears in marriage quilts in the 20th century as a symbol of fertility.

Friends of Textiles & Costume at the ROM invites you to their 2011 fall Decorative Textiles lectures: The Ins and Outs of Dyeing and Weaving, September 16 and Quilts and Quilting, October 21. Cost is $20 per session.