Quilted fabric has been used from the beginning of time. Our ancestors discovered that the sewing together of layers of fabric provided a protection from wind and cold. In Asia quilted garments are still made and worn today as they have been for centuries. When the crusaders returned from the east they brought with them many things which became part of European life. Under their armor they wore the undergarments of quilted fabric which they had learned kept them protected from the elements. Extremely harsh winters in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries gave Europeans the impetus to develop the technique of quilt making for a very practical purpose, for survival from the cold.
The very first quilts were primitive, layers of cloth sewn together with a few strong running stitches. They resembled the pallets upon which most people slept. The word quilt actually comes from the Old French word cuilte, meaning mattress. These quilts were very thick and cumbersome. Their strength could have been improved by smaller, more evenly distributed stitches. But due to the thickness of the layers of fabric used and the size of the quilt this was very difficult to stitch. Embroidery was a needlework craft highly developed in Europe at the time, and a hoop frame was used to work the fine stitchery on fabric stretched over the frame. The quilting problem was solved by making a large hoop frame to hold the quilted fabric tight so that the needle could be pushed through and the quilt frame was born.
With this development, the ability to sew finer more decorative stitches gave rise to the creativity of the artist making the quilt. What at first was a very practical not attractive household item, became something which could show the skill of the seamstress in making designs using stitches to create patterns of lines, flowers, leaves. As these decorative techniques grew, these quilted items were seen more and more as items of beauty and worth. Seamstresses in France cut flowers and leaves out of contrasting colors of cloth and appliquéed them onto their fabric adding a whole new dimension to the craft. Spanish seamstresses were the first quilters to be asked to make ecclesiastical vestments. In Italy Trapunto was born, which is a quilting technique in which a cord is placed between two pieces of fabric with stitches made around it to form a raised design.
When the first settlers came to this country they brought with them quilts made with all of these techniques known to them and of course they also brought fabric to be used for all practical purposes in the New World. New fabric was hard to come by, so fabric for clothing and for quilts had to be used and reused saving as much as possible from worn clothing. Thus the patchwork quilt was born.
Scraps of fabric were cut into geometric patterns which fit together into larger squares of design. Many of these patterns have been passed through generations, created by the ingenuity of our ancestors and traded within communities as the country grew. Names for particular patterns sometimes changed as they moved from one part of the country to another, reflecting the environment within which it was named. ( i.e. a pattern called the pine tree pattern in Connecticut might be named bear’s path in Ohio)
Section I—Art Activity
1. Students will identify 5 different quilt patterns
2. Students will select one quilt pattern to make into a quilt square.
3. Students will create a quilt square by cutting and fitting wallpaper samples into a pattern
Illustrations of traditional patterned quilts
Quilt patterns and templates
The students will be shown a variety of different quilts in slides and books, identifying the different names of patterns. They will also see the templates used for cutting the fabric and some of the tools used in the past and in the present for cutting. They will be shown traditional quilts made using the same pattern with different fabric selection demonstrating how the same pattern changes using different pieces of cloth, thus getting an introduction to the changes possible through the selection of fabric color, design and texture.
Each student will choose a particular pattern to use for their quilt square and then will select 3 different wallpaper designs to use in their square. Sharing the templates they will cut and fit their square together.
Students will place their finished squares on the floor, arranging them together as if in a quilt. They will be asked to identify the pattern names they used and what was used by other classmates. They will analyze what color and pattern changes do to the overall design.