Early Quilting History | Art Quilts

Early Quilting History

The article I wrote last month inspired me to look at the history of quilting, as it relates to the oldest dated form of quilting as opposed to patchwork quilting. Today we, more often than not, associate quilting with patchwork. However, in history quilting was not pieced together. Geneva Ruth indicates that the earliest example of quilting appears “n a carved ivory figure that belonged to the Pharaoh of the Egyptian First Dynasty which dates back to 34OO BC.” Then there is a Mongolian linen carpet that is quilted and dates back to perhaps the first century BC. I looked all over the internet for a picture of this piece that is apparently housed at the Saint Petersburg department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Archaeology Section. Having recently immersed myself in spinning and weaving linen I was hopeful I could see it but I was unable to find a picture.

Moving on from ancient quilt history we next see how quilting became rather prominent in the construction of clothing, namely padding worn under armor. Geneva Ruth states, “The history of quilting in Europe began in the latter years of the 11th century when crusaders brought it from the Middle East. It became so popular that soldiers and Knights were using it under their amour for maximum comfort.” From what I can tell this form of quilting was in the trapunto style or cord quilting which was also called Italian quilting. These styles are stitched in an embroidery style and then, with trapunto, the backing is cut open enough to insert some sort of stuffing material. With Italian quilting it was a cord of some kind.

The earliest surviving European quilt is referred to as the Sicilian Tristan quilt, the Tristan and Isolde quilt, or the Guicciardini  quilt. It is incredibly detailed and beautiful! It is a trapunto style quilt with linen fabric on the front and back and stuffed with cotton. You can read more about the interesting history of this piece through Textile Research Center. Below are a few pictures of the quilt, with some close up detail pictures.

Poppie’s Cottage has a great blog post about 18th century quilting techniques. She offers up pictures of pieces she has found as well as sold through the years. Below are a few pictures of an intricately trapunto quilted waist coat.

In America one of the earliest quilts, if not the oldest surviving quilt, is the Martha Howard quilt which dates back to 1786. It is done in the trapunto style. Amy Littlefield offers up a little history of this quilt stating, “Martha Howard sewed each leaf and feather into the salmon-pink cloth by hand, and her tiny stitches are still visible in the paper-thin wool 224 years later.” It has gone through some elaborate and expensive restoration! You can read more about the story of Martha at the Patriot Ledger (as well as other sources through online research). Below are a couple of pictures of this amazing quilt that has survived the centuries!

This is just a taste of what may well be out there regarding the more ancient history of quilts. I will personally be attempting some finely spun and woven linen so that I can do some Italian quilting on a drawstring linen bag! Truly inspiring!

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