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The History of Patchwork Quilting

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In my tutorial “How to Patchwork Quilt” I gave a brief description of patchwork and quilting. This article delves into the history of patchwork quilting.

Ancient Eygpt

The word quilt is derived from the Latin word Culcita, meaning a cushion or mattress that has been stuffed.

Patchwork and Quilting is thought to have been around as far back as 980 BC. A quilted funeral canopy was found in the tomb of the Egyptian queen Queen Esi-mem-kev, who was thought to have lived around 980 BC. Another example is a carved ivory figure discovered in 1903. It was a Pharaoh from the first dynasty of Egypt, (around 3400 BC) who is wearing what appears to be a quilted mantle.

A quilted rug was found in a Scythian chieftain’s tomb. (Koslow Scientific Expedition, 1924 to 1926). Carbon dating indicates the age to be around the 4th or 5th century B.C. and it is believed to be the oldest example of a quilted rug. Once cleaned it was seen to have a beautiful range of colours, soft blue and greens, rich reds and gold. It has an elaborate pattern which is still used in carpets today.

There are only a very few examples from these earlier dates but a good indicator that patchwork and quilting has been around for a very long time!

Medieval and Renaissance Europe

Only the odd item has been found from the medieval period but gives evidence of armour being made of quilted leather, linen padded with rags/straw/sheep’s wool and sometimes reinforced with metal. These were thought to have been worn by William the Conqueror and his Crusaders, not just for protection but also for warmth.

(Bayeux Tapestry scene51 Battle of Hastings Norman knights and archers” by Myrabella – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Bayeux Tapestry


In Europe, as the climate became colder the use of quilts for bedding became more popular. This gave rise to the development of embellishing simple cloth with design and decorative stitches. Pilgrims to America took this tradition of making quilts this way with them.

As time moved on to the Renaissance period, decorative quilted clothing became more popular and quilted bed covers were a luxury items used among the wealthy.

17th Century Onwards

From the 17th century onwards we know more about the history of patchwork quilting as more items have survived. The earliest surviving dated patchwork bedcover is known as the 1780 silk coverlet. It was discovered in 2000 and now belongs to the Quilters Guild of the British Isles. It has the initials E H and the date 1718 in the centre block but no details about the maker can be found. The blocks have motifs with flowers, hearts, pheasants, deer, cats, swans, lions and a unicorn and geometric designs. It is a beautiful piece of work, unfortunately due to copyright I can’t show it here but follow the link above and you can see it in all its glory!

Averil Colby

Averil Colby (1900–1983) was an influential quilter well known for her “foraging” of fabrics; an early upcycler! She believed that patchwork was a great way to teach hand sewing and didn’t believe in using a machine. When she died a collection of her items, which included a selection of floral fabrics was given to The Quilters Guild. It was her foraging for these fabric samples that helped historians date old quilts, most of which were never signed or dated. (http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk).

The purpose of patchwork quilting started off for practical reasons. It’s gradually become one of the most popular sewing hobbies today with thousands of patchwork and quilting groups all over the world.

Quilting Bee

Doing the research into the history of patchwork quilting, plus seeing the many beautiful examples has inspired me to learn more about this wonderful hobby! If you want to try a simple patchwork baby quilt check out my How to Patchwork Quilt tutorial.

Nakshi_white quiltWoman sewing a patchwork quilt Geometric Patchwork Piece

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How to Patchwork Quilt – Part 3

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We finished How to Patchwork Quilt – Part 2 with the patchwork completed and now it’s time to move onto the quilting part.

There are many different ways to make a quilt but, for the purpose of this tutorial I’m doing it the simplest way.

Making the quilt.

A quick note here….3 layers of patchwork quiltI decided to add a cream strip along the top of the patchwork, (about 15/16 cm), the idea being I can embroider the baby’s name in the corner once he/she’s born.

Lay the batting/wadding on the bottom, then the patchwork facing up, then the backing.

 

Sew around 3 sides Open End of patchwork quiltleaving the top open. Trim the seam then turn right sides out leaving the batting in the middle.

 

 

 

Time to get the iron Patchwork quilt ironedout again! Turn the open edges in and give the quilt a good press. Top stitch all the way around the edge. You can use a contrasting thread colour for this, I kept it white as I don’t know whether it’s for a boy or girl.

 

 

Quilting.

As with the joining of the pieces, there are many different methods and patterns for the quilting part. You can see some elaborate examples in How to Quilt – Part 1

A lot will depend on the machine Patchwork quilt squareyou have and the thickness of the quilt. My sewing machine isn’t a quilting machine so I chose a simple straight machine stitch criss-crossed over a 4×4 square. Again I kept the white thread. It’s hard to see in the image but hopefully you get the idea.

 

Another press and finished! How to patchwork quilt finishedThis was the easiest patchwork quilt I could make, it’s a new skill for me to learn so always best to start simple! It’s not perfect, there are some “wobbly” bits but for a first attempt I’m pleased with it.

 

Finally.

I enjoyed the process and some of the examples I saw in my research have inspired me to do more. Proper quilting rulers would have made cutting the patchwork pieces easier. If you want to learn more about quilting and the best tools to us, take a look at this site.

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How to Patchwork Quilt

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I don’t know how to patchwork quilt so take this journey with me and we’ll work together to create a patchwork pram quilt. I have another Grandbaby on the way and thought this would make a great gift. There are plenty of tutorials and advice, I’ve already done my research, and am ready to get started!

I’m going to do this ‘How to patchwork quilt’ tutorial in 3 parts. This will give us time to complete each part before moving onto the next.

I have the materials that I need having taken advantage of the special offer from Hobbycraft (see here) and buying the half price fat quarters (Fat quarters are usually 56cm wide x 50cm, (22 inches x 18 inches)). I’m using an unwanted quilt cover for the backing and some of the patchwork squares.

What is a Patchwork Quilt?

A quilt is described Elaborate Quiltas being a type of blanket composed of three layers. A top layer, a layer of batting or wadding in the middle and a fabric back. Quilting is where the layers are stitched together with either simple or very elaborate patterns. (Image “Russellquiltera” by Russell Lee Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Patchwork is described as simple patchworkneedlework that involves sewing geometric pieces of fabric together to form a large piece. Generally the larger piece is based on repeating patterns built up with the fabric shapes. The simplest form is squares, which you can see in this image.

 

So, a patchwork quilt is using the pieced patchwork to form the top layer of your quilt.

Of course, there is much Elaborate quiltmore to this kind of sewing. There are some beautiful examples like the picture on the right. (“Korea-Joseon-Bojagi-01” by by angela n.)

I’m keeping it simple for my first attempt by using a basic square patchwork.

 

Lets get started.

Based on an existing pram cover I’ve decided to make my pram quilt 61cm x 81.4cm (24″ x 32″) with each square being 10cm (4″)

If I’ve done my calculations correctly that means I’ll need 48 squares. There’ll need to be a seam allowance added so I’ll add 1.27cm (1/2″) to each square.

Materials.

  • A piece 61cm x 81.4cm (24″ x 32″) How to quilt materialsfor the backing.
  • A piece of wadding/batting 61cm x 81.4cm((24″ x 32″).
  • Colourful fabric for cutting the squares. I’m using two of the fat quarters mentioned earlier plus a one fat quarter cut from the backing. So that’s three fat quarters.
  • Rotary cutter and self-healing mat (optional, you can use scissors).

Instructions.

The next step is vey important; IRON YOUR FABRIC! For accuracy when sewing the squares together this needs to be done. You’ve cut out your backing and wadding piece so now it’s time to cut out the squares. There are special patchwork and quilting rulers for this, like this one here Sew-Easy Patchwork Quilting Ruler 24×6-1/2in. I don’t have one of these so I’m going to mark out the squares with tailors chalk and a mitred ruler.

Lay the three fat quarters on top of each Fabric choiceother and mark out 48 x 11.27cm (4.4″)squares.

 

 

 

 

Measuring the squares

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you have all the squares Fabric Squares Cut outmarked out it’s time to start cutting. Cut along the long length first. You’ll then have 4 separate lots of fabric. Cut along the markings you made earlier to form the squares.

You should now have 48 neatly cut squares ready to start forming the patchwork.

 

The next step is to lay out the squares in the pattern you want to sew them. That will be covered in Part 2 of How to Patchwork Quilt.

I’m really enjoying learning and will definitely want to do more patchwork quilting. I found this great resource where you can download all the quilting patterns you want – it’s FREE!

If you have any questions or comments about this tutorial please comment below or contact me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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