SEE RELIGIOUS FOLK ART.
are perhaps the best-known form of American textile art. Quiltmaking is rooted in a utilitarian past, but it has spawned such a wide-ranging creative exploration in design that it is not incorrect to call it, as some have, "the Great American Art." The traditional quilt is composed of three layers and is often described as a "sandwich": two layers of fabric (a top and bottom) with a layer of filling in between. The filling, or batting, may be of any of a variety of materials-cotton, wool, silk, feathers, and down have all been used, although quilters today prefer synthetic batting-and of any thickness. The layers are held together by decorative stitching (quilting) or by knots tied through the layers at spaced intervals. If knots are used, the end product is usually called a comforter rather than a quilt, but, like quilts, comforters can be ornamental as well as functional. The type of filling and the thickness (or thinness) of the fabric used for the outer layers, and the quilting itself, all combine to determine both the warmth and the decorative value of the quilt.
Quilting as a technique dates back thousands of years and probably originated in Asia. It became known as early as the eleventh century in Europe during the Crusades, when it was learned that the Saracens wore several thick layers of fabric stitched together as protection under their armor. The technique offered warmth as well as protection, and it began to be used in bedcovers as well as for various forms of clothing, such as petticoats, linings, and overcoats. A quilting tradition seems to have been well established in Europe by the late fourteenth century. A whitework Sicilian quilt from 1395 is one of the earliest known quilts and is a tour de force of quilting, embroidery, and stuffed work.
The earliest references to quilts in America are found in estate and household inventories from the late seventeenth century. Some of the references may have been to quilted petticoats rather than bedcovers, but whether clothing or bedding, these early quilts were most likely British imports ordered by wealthy families. Quilts in this period were hardly ubiquitous, as bed rugs, blankets, and other coverlets formed the bulk of bedcovers used. Quilts were instead highly valued items that only the wealthy could afford, and they often served a major decorative role in the dressing of American beds in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century homes. Many of these quilts were made of glazed wool or silk in a whole-cloth format and finished with elaborate quilting patterns. The early appliquéd and pieced quilts used a medallion design-a pattern also seen in the quilting on whole-cloth quilts-in which the central image, or "medallion," is framed by successive borders, or were composed of pieced hexagons that formed a variety of "honey-comb" patterns. The oldest surviving American quilt, dated 1704, is made of pieced triangles in a medallion format.
Quilted bedcovers are generally divided into three main groups: whole-cloth quilts, appliquéd quilts, and pieced quilts. The term "patchwork" can refer to either appliquéd or pieced quilts; it is, however, more accurate to refer to appliquéd or pieced tops rather than quilts, as the backs are usually whole-cloth rather than patchwork, but the term "quilt" is now standard usage and shall be used here. Several theories have been advanced toward establishing pieced quilts as the predecessors of appliquéd examples, but equally valid theories have been used to show that appliquéd quilts predate pieced ones. It is possible that both types developed more or less contemporaneously and have coexisted through the years.
Whole-cloth quilts are made of lengths of the same fabric stitched together to form the desired size. The
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Publication information: Book title: Encyclopedia of American Folk Art. Contributors: Gerard C.Wertkin - Editor, Lee Kogan - AssociateEditor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 411.
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