A patchwork and embroidery quilt that displays flowers and birds

A quilt is a type of bed cover, traditionally composed of three layers of fiber: a woven cloth top, a layer of batting or wadding and a woven back, combined using the technique of quilting. “Quilting” refers to the technique of joining at least two fabric layers by stitches or ties. In most cases, two fabric layers surround a middle layer of batting (cotton, polyester, silk, wool or combinations of fibers) which is a lighter, insulating layer. Batting is often referred to as “wadding” in Britain. Some modern quilts are made with an upper fabric layer, quilted to a layer of microfleece, perhaps without a fabric backing. The most decorative fabric surface is called the “top”, and is the design focus. A single piece of fabric (a “wholecloth quilt”) may be used as the top, or the top may be “pieced” from smaller fabric pieces. Sewing together smaller pieces of fabric into a larger patchwork "block" of fabric creates the basic unit. The “patchwork” of the top is typically made of a series of blocks (all identical, or of diverse design), which are made sequentially and then assembled. The blocks may be separated by plain fabric strips, called “sashing”. The central design space may be small (a “medallion”) or dominate the top of the quilt. Many tops have decorative "borders", of plainer design, surrounding the central panel of the top and enlarging the quilt. The "binding" is the final edge of fabric, that covers the entire edge, and seals the batting. Most modern quilts are made of 100% cotton fabric in a light weight. Early quilts were often made of "calico," which is a cotton fabric in a small, repeating print. “Muslin” is a similar fabric (the name derived from Mosul, where quality cotton fabrics were produced in the Middle Ages), of lower quality on average. Silk and lightweight wool are also used, but less commonly than in the past.

There are many traditions regarding the design and characteristics of quilts, and they may be made or given to mark important life events such as marriage, the birth of a child, a family member leaving home, or graduations. Modern quilts are not always intended for use as bedding, and may be used as wall hangings, table runners, or tablecloth. Quilting techniques are often incorporated into garment design. Quilt shows and competitions are held locally, regionally and in national shows. There are international competitions as well, particularly in the United States, Japan and Europe.


Uses of quilts

Little Amsterdam.
  • Bedding
  • Decoration
  • Armoury (see Gambeson)
  • Commemoration (e.g., the "Twentieth Century Women of Faith" quilt on the Patchwork page)
  • Education (e.g., a "Science" quilt)
  • Campaigning
  • Documenting events / social history etc.
  • Artistic expression
  • Traditional gift


Quilting traditions are particularly prominent in the United States, where the necessity of creating warm bedding met the paucity of local fabrics in the early days of the colonies. Imported fabric was very expensive, and local “homespun” fabric was labor intensive to create and tended to wear out sooner than commercial fabric. It was essential for most families to use and preserve textiles efficiently. Saving or salvaging small scraps of fabric was a part of life for all households. Small pieces of fabric were joined together, to make larger pieces, in units called “blocks”. Creativity could be expressed in the block designs, or simple “utility quilts”, with minimal decorative value, could be produced. “Crib quilts” for infants were needed in the cold of winter, but even early examples of beautiful baby quilts indicate the efforts that women made to welcome a new baby.

Quilting was often a communal activity, involving women and girls in a family, or in a larger community. The tops were prepared in advance, and a "quilting bee" was arranged, during which the actual quilting was completed by multiple people. "Quilting frames" were often used to stretch the quilt layers, and maintain event tension to produce high quality quilting stitches, and to allow many individual quilters to work on a single quilt at one time. Quilting bees were important social events in many communities, and were typically held between periods of high demand for farm labor. Quilts were frequently made to commemorate major life events, such as marriages.

There are many traditions of the number of quilts a young woman (and her family) were expected to have made prior to her wedding, for the establishment of her new home. Given the demands on a new wife, and the learning curve in her new role, it was prudent to provide her some reserve time with quilts already completed. Specific wedding quilts continue to be made today. “Wedding ring” quilts have been made since the 1930s, and represent two interlocked rings in the patchwork design. White, wholecloth quilts with high quality, elaborate quilting and often trapunto decorations, are also traditional for weddings. Interestingly, it was considered bad luck to incorporate heart motifs in a wedding quilt (the couples’ hearts might be broken if such a design were included), so tulip motifs were often used to symbolize love in wedding quilts. Quilts were often made for other events, such as graduations, or when individuals left their homes for other communities. Farewell gifts for pastors were made, and some were “subscription” quilts. Community members would pay to have their names embroidered on the quilt top, and the proceeds were given to the departing minister. Sometimes the quilts were auctioned, for further money, and the quilt might be donated back to the minister by the winner. It was a logical application of this tradition to raising money for other community projects, such as recovery from a flood or natural disaster, and later, for fundraising for war. Subscription quilts were made for all of America’s wars. In a new tradition, quilt makers across the United States have been making quilts for wounded veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. These quilts symbolize the respect the community feels toward the veterans, who put themselves at risk, serving their country.



Applique is a sewing technique where an upper layer of fabric is sewn onto a ground fabric, with the raw edges of the "applied" fabric tucked beneath the design to minimize raveling or damage. The upper, applied fabric shape can be of any shape or contour. The edge of the upper fabric is folded under as it is sewn down in the "needle turn" method, and small hand stitches are made to secure down the design. The stitches are made with a hem stitch, so that the thread securing the fabric is minimally visible from the front of the work. There are other methods to secure the raw edge of the applied fabric, and some people use basting stitches, fabric-safe glue, freezer paper, paper forms, or starching techniques to prepare the fabric that will be applied, prior to initiating sewing. Supporting paper or other materials are typically removed after the sewing is complete. The ground fabric is often cut away from behind, after completion of the sewing of whatever method, in order to minimize the bulk of the fabric in that region. A special form of applique is "broderie perse", which invovles applique of specific motifs that have been selected from a printed fabric. For example, a series of flower designs might be cut out of one fabric with a vine design, rearranged and sewn down on a new fabric, to create the image of a rose bush.

Reverse applique

Reverse applique is a sewing technique where a ground fabric is cut, and another piece of fabric is placed under the ground fabric, and the raw edges of the ground fabric are tucked under and the newly folded edge is sewn down to the lower fabric. Stitches are made as inconspicuous as possible. Reverse applique techniques are often used in combination with traditional applique techniques, to give a variety of visual effects.


Trapunto is a sewing technique where two layers of fabric surrounding a layer of batting are quilted together, and then additional material is added to a portion of the design to increase the profile of relief as compared to the rest of the work. The effect of the elevation of one portion is often heightened by closely quilting the surrounding region, to compress the batting layer in that part of the quilt, thus receding the background even further. "Cording" techniques may also be used, where a channel is created by quilting, and a cord or yarn is pulled through the batting layer, causing a sharp change in the texture of the quilt. For example, several pockets may be quilted in the pattern of a flower, and then extra batting pushed through a slit in the backing fabric (and this slit later sewn shut). The stem of the rose might be corded, creating a dimensional effect. The background could be quilted densely in a stipple pattern, causing the space around the rose bush to become less prominent. These techniques are typically executed with whole cloth quilts, and with batting and thread that matches the top fabric. Some artists have used contrasting colored thread, to create an "outline" effect. Colored batting behind the surface layer can create a shadowed effect. Brightly colored yarn cording behind white cloth can give a pastel effect on the surface.


Additional elements may be added to the surface of a quilt. The most common objects sewn on are beads or buttons. Decorative trim, sequins, found objects, or other items can be secured to the surface.

English paper piecing

English paper piecing is a hand sewing technique, used to maximize accuracy when piecing complex angles together. A paper shape is cut the exact dimensions of the desired piece. Fabric is then basted to the paper shape. Adjacent units are then placed, face to face, and the seam is whip stitched together. When a given piece is completely surrounded by all the adjacent shapes, the basting thread is cut, and the basting and the paper shape are removed.

Foundation piecing

Foundation piecing is a sewing technique that allows maximum stability of the work as the piecing is created, minimizing the distorting effect of working with slender pieces or bias cut pieces. In the most basic form, a piece of paper is cut the size of the desired block. For utility quilts, a sheet of newspaper was used. In modern foundation piecing, an elaborate design featuring pointed shapes, is used. A strip of fabric or a fabric scrap is sewn by machine to the foundation. The fabric is flipped back, and pressed. The next piece of fabric is sewn through the initial piece and paper. Subsequent pieces are added sequentially. The block may be trimmed, flush with the border of the foundation. After the blocks are sewn together, the paper is removed, unless the foundation is an acid-free material.

Quilting Styles

United States


Amish quilts are reflections of the Amish way of life. As a part of their religious commitment, Amish people have chosen to reject "worldly" elements in their dress and lifestyle, their quilts reflect this. Traditionally, they use only solid colors in their clothing and the quilts they intend for their own use, in colors that were approved by their local religious leaders. Early Amish quilts were typically made of light weight wool fabric, off the same bolts of fabric used for family clothing items. Black is a dominant color, in the oldest Amish quilt styles, particularly in quilts made in Eastern Pennsylvania. Although classic Amish quilts appear austere from a distance, the craftsmanship is often of the highest quality and the lush quilting patterns, that contrast with the plain background. Antique Amish quilts are among the most highly prized among collectors and quilting enthusiasts. The quilts created by Amish people in the early period reflect their strong, internal cultural influences, that were to some degree separate from the non-Amish culture around them. The color combinations can help experts determine the community in which the quilt was produced. Many consider these quilts the "art" of the Amish.

Baltimore album

Baltimore album quilts originated in the region around Baltimore, Maryland in the 1840s, where a unique and highly developed applique style of quilt briefly flourished. The quilts are created as album quilts, which are collections of appliqued blocks, each with a different design. The designs are often feature floral patterns, but many other motifs are also used. Baskets of flowers, wreaths, buildings, books and birds were common motifs. Designs were often highly detailed, and displayed the maker's skill. New dying techniques were available, allowing new, bold colors which the quilters avidly used. New techniques with printing on the fabrics also allowed shaded portions of fabric to heighten the three dimensional effect of the designs. The background fabric is typically white, allowing maximal contrast to the delicate designs. India ink allowed handwritten accents, and allowed the blocks to be signed. Some of these quilts were created by professional quilters, and patrons could commission quilts made of new blocks, or select blocks that were already available for sale. There has been a resurgence of quilts in the Baltimore style, with many of the modern quilts experimenting with bending some of the old rules.

Crazy quilts

Crazy quilts were named because their pieces are not regular, and are scattered across the top of the quilt like "crazed" (cracked or crackled) pottery glazing. They were very refined, luxury items, not made randomly. Geometric pieces of rich fabrics were sewn together, and highly decorative embroidery was added. Such quilts were often effectively samplers of embroidery stitches and techniques, displaying the development of needle skills of those in the well-to-do late nineteenth century home. They were show pieces, not used for warmth, but for late Victorian display. They often took years to complete. Fabrics used included silks, wools, linen and cotton. Mixtures of fabric textures, such as a smooth silk next to a textured brocade or velvet, were embraced. Designs were applied to the surface, and other elements such as ribbons, lace, and decorative cording were used exuberantly. Names and dates were often part of the design, and commemorated important events or associations of the maker. Politics were included in some, with printed campaign handkerchiefs and other pre-printed textiles (such as advertising silks) were often included to declare the maker's sentiments.


Hawaiian quilt.

Hawaiian quilts are whole-cloth (not pieced) quilts, featuring large-scale symmetrical appliqué in solid colors on a solid color (usually white) ground fabric. Traditionally, the quilter would fold a square piece of fabric into quarters or eighths and then cut out a border design, followed by a center design. The cutouts would then be appliquéd onto a contrasting background fabric. The center and border designs were typically inspired by local flora, and often had rich personal associations for the creator, with deep cultural resonances. The most common color for the appliquéd design was red, due to the wide availability of Turkey-red fabric.[1] Some of these textiles were not in fact quilted, ultimately, but were used as decorative coverings without the heavier batting that was not needed in a tropical climate. Multiple colors were added over time, as the tradition developed. So called "echo quilting", where a quilted outline of the applique pattern is repeated like ripples to the edge of the quilt, is the most common quilting pattern employed on Hawaiian-style quilts. Beautiful examples are held in the collection of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawai’i. Link to the Bishop Museum: [1]

Native American Star Quilts

Star Quilts are a Native American form of quilting arising among Native women in the late 19th Century as communities adjusted to the difficulties of Reservation life and cultural disruption. They are made by many tribes, but came to be especially associated with Plains tribes, including the Lakota. While star patterns existed in earlier European-American forms of quilting, they came to take on special significance for many Native artisans.[2] Star quilts are more than an art form but express important cultural and spiritual values of the Native women who make them, and continuing to have uses in ceremonies and for marking important points in a person's life- from curing or yuwipi ceremonies to memorials. Anthropologists, such as Bea Medicine have documented important social and cultural connections between quilting and earlier important pre-reservation crafting traditions such as women's quill-working societies,[3] and other crafts that were difficult to sustain after hunting and movement became restricted by the US government. Star quilts have also become a form of income for many Native women, but retain their spiritual and cultural importance to their makers.


Seminole patchwork is a specific Native American tradition and is seen in quilts and traditional clothing. Seminole patchwork is created by joining a series of horizontal strips, each designed with repetitive, geometric designs.

Block Designs

There are many traditional block designs, and techniques that have been named. Log cabin quilts are pieced quilts featuring blocks made of strips of fabric typically encircling a small centered square (traditionally a red square, symbolizing the hearth of the home), with light strips forming half the square and dark strips on the other side. Dramatic contrast effects with light and dark fabrics are created by various layouts of the blocks when forming a quilt top. There are named variations, based on the placement of log cabin blocks. These include: Sunshine and Shadow, Straight Furrows, Streak of Lightening, Open Windows. Nine Patch blocks are often the first blocks a child is taught to make. The block consists of three rows of three squares. A checkerbaord effect with alternating dark and light squares is most commonly used. The Double Wedding Ring pattern first came to prominence during the Great Depression. The design consists of interlocking circles, pieced with small arcs of fabrics. The finished quilts are often given to commemorate marriages. Cathedral Windows is a block that uses reverse applique, and large amounts of folded muslin, to form an interlocking circular design. The volume of fabric is high, and the tops are heavy. Because of the weight and the insulating value of all the fabric involved, these tops are often not quilted onto any batting or backing.

European quilts

The history of quilting in Europe goes back at least to Medieval times. Quilting was done not only for traditional bedding but for warm clothing. Clothing quilted with fancy fabrics and threads was often a sign of nobility.

British quilts

Henry VIII of England's household inventories record dozens of "quyltes" and "coverpointes" among the bed linen, including a green silk one for his first wedding to Catherine of Aragon quilted with metal threads, linen-backed, and worked with roses and pomegranates.[4]

Otherwise known as Durham quilts, North Country quilts have a long history in north-east England, dating back to the Industrial Revolution and beyond. North Country quilts are often "whole-cloth" quilts, that emphasize the quilting. Some are made of sateen fabrics, which further heighten the effect of the quilting.

From the late 18th to the early 20th century the Lancashire cotton industry produced quilts using a mechanised technique of weaving double cloth with an enclosed heavy cording weft, imitating the corded Provençal quilts made in Marseilles.[5]

Italian quilts

Quilting was particularly common in Italy during the Renaissance. One particularly famous surviving example, now in two parts, is the 1360-1400 Tristan Quilt, a Sicilian quilted linen textile representing scenes from the story of Tristan and Isolde and housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum and in the Bargello in Florence.[6]

Provençal quilts

Provençal quilts, now often referred to as "boutis", are wholecloth quilts traditionally made in the South of France from the 17th century onwards. Boutis is a Provençal word meaning 'stuffing', describing how two layers of fabric are quilted together with stuffing sandwiched between sections of the design, creating a raised effect.[7] The three main forms of the Provençal quilt are matelassage (a double-layered wholecloth quilt with wadding sandwiched between), corded quilting or piqûre de Marseille (also known as Marseilles work or piqué marseillais), and boutis.[7] These terms are often debated and confused, but are all forms of stuffed quilting associated with the region.[7]

For further information, see Provençal quilts

Other nations


Mola textiles are a distinct tradition, created by the Kuna people of Panama and Colombia. They are famous for bright colors, and reverse applique techniques, creating designs with strong cultural and spiritual importance within the indigenous culture. Forms of animals, humans or mythological figures are featured, with strong geometric designs in the voids around the main image. These textiles are not traditionally used as bedding, but use techniques common to the larger international quilting tradition. Molas have been very influential on modern quilting design.


Sashiko (刺し子, literally "little stabs") is a Japanese tradition, that evolved over time from a simple technique for re-enforcing fabric made for heavy use in fishing villages. A tradition of decorative stitches, with no overlap of any two stitches. Piecing is not part of the tradition, but the focus is on heavy cotton thread work with large, even stitches, on the base fabric. Deep blue indigo-dyed fabric, with white stitches is the most traditional form, but inverse work with blue on white are seen. Traditional medallion designs, tessellated and geometric designs are most often used.

Bangladeshi Quilts

Contemporary Bangladeshi Quilt (Kantha).

Bangladeshi quilts, known as Kantha, are not pieced together. Rather, they are two to three pieces of cloth. They are made out of worn out clothes (saris) and are mainly used for bedding, as a blanket. They may be used as a decorative piece as well. They are made by women mainly in the Monsoon season before winter.

Tivaevae Cook Island quilts

Tivaevae are also quilts made by Cook Island women for ceremonial occasions. Quilting is thought to have been imported to the Islands by missionaries. The quilts are highly prized and are given as gifts with other finely made works on important occasions such as weddings and christenings.

Ralli quilts

Ralli quilts are traditional quilts made in Pakistan and India. Ralli quilts are also called rilli quilts. Handmade ralli quilts are used as blankets and bedspreads. They combine patchwork, appliqué and embroidery. Parents present rallis to their daughters on their weddings as a dowry. The another kind of ralli quilt is sami ralli, used by the samis, jogis and gypsies. This type of rall quilt is popular due to many colors and extensive hand stitching.

Other terms


A quillow is a quilt with an attached pocket into which the whole blanket can be folded, thus making a pillow. Once folded into the pocket, it can be used as a cushion during the day and unfolded into a blanket at night.

Quilting technique

Quilts on display

In 2010, the world renowned Victoria and Albert Museum put on a comprehensive display of quilts from 1700-2010 [2].

Amongst famous quilts in history is the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was begun in San Francisco in 1987, and is cared for by The NAMES Project Foundation. Portions of it are periodically displayed in various arranged locations. Panels are made to memorialize a person lost to HIV, and each block is 3 feet by 6 feet. Many of the blocks are not made by traditional quilters, and amateur creators may lack technical skill, but their blocks speak directly to the love and loss they have experienced. The blocks are not in fact “quilted,” in that there is no stitching holding together batting and backing layers. Exuberant designs, with personal objects applied, are seen, next to restrained and elegant designs. Each block is very personal, and they form a deeply moving sight when combined by the dozens and the hundreds. The "quilt" as a whole is still under construction, although the entire quilt is so large now that it cannot be assembled in complete form in any one location.

The Museum of the American Quilter's Society (also known as the National Quilt Museum) is located in Paducah, Kentucky. The museum houses a large collection of quilts, most of which are winning entries from the annual American Quilter's Society festival and quilt competition held in April. The Museum also houses other exhibits of quilt collections, both historic and modern.

Many historic quilts can be seen in Bath at the American Museum in Britain, and Beamish Museum preserves examples of the North East England quiltmaking tradition.

The largest known public collection of quilts is housed at the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Examples of Tivaevae and other quilts can be found in the collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in California also display traditional and modern quilts. There is free admission to the museum on the first Friday of every month, as part of the San Jose Art Walk.

The New England Quilt Museum is located in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

In literature


See also


  1. ^ 1990: Susanna Pfeffer. "Quilt Masterpieces" Outlet Book Company, Inc. ISBN 0-517-03297X
  2. ^ http://www.historyofquilts.com/lonestar.html
  3. ^ Lakota Star Quilts: Commodity, Ceremony, and Economic Development; Bea Medicine; To Honor and Comfort; Museum of New Mexico Press, 1997 Read more: Native American Star Quilt History
  4. ^ Evans, Lisa, History of Medieval & Renaissance Quilting, http://www.historyofquilts.com/precolonial.html, retrieved 2010-06-02 
  5. ^ Quilting - see, trapunto, Quilting in the North Country, Needlework through the Ages, http://arts.jrank.org/pages/9841/Quilting.html, retrieved 2010-05-02 
  6. ^ The Tristan Quilt in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Accessed 5-2-2010
  7. ^ a b c Etienne-Bugnot, Isabelle, Quilting in France: The French Traditions, http://www.historyofquilts.com/french_quilt_history.html, retrieved 2010-05-02 

Further reading

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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  • quilt — [kwilt] n. [ME quilte < OFr < L culcita, bed, mattress < IE base * kwelek > Sans kūrcaḥ, bundle, roll] 1. a bedcover made of two layers of cloth filled with down, cotton, wool, etc. and stitched together in lines or patterns to keep… …   English World dictionary

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  • Quilt — 〈[kwı̣lt] m. 6〉 in Nordamerika hergestellte Steppdeckenart [engl.] * * * Quịlt, der; s, s [engl. quilt = Schlafdecke < mengl. quilte < afrz. coilte, cuilte < lat. culcita = Matratze, Kissen]: (ursprünglich von amerikanischen… …   Universal-Lexikon

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  • quilt — quilt·er; quilt; …   English syllables

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