What is a Whole Cloth Quilt?

When researching quilt history, I decided to delve a bit deeper quilting.

Some of the oldest quilts still intact are whole cloth quilts. These may have been made from linen, silk, wool, or cotton. Beautiful designs were made on a single piece of fabric (or few similar pieces sewn together if the loom was small so the fabric was narrow). The earliest example is the Tristan quilt dating from the 14th century. It was made in Sicily of linen with a cotton batting. The trapunto workmanship on this quilt is exemplary as it show 14 different scenes and covers 125 inches by 112 inches. Since this is bigger than our king sized quilts, it may have been a wall covering rather than a bed covering.

Some whole cloth quilts, like Tristan, had additional texture effects added to the quilting. These are known as trapunto quilts and corded quilts. Both of these techniques are centuries old.

Trapunto quilts are known for their puffy sections, which were traditionally made by pulling wool into the quilt from the back with a small hook, like a crochet hook. Today, trapunto is done in a variety of ways, including the traditional method. Many quilters now add an additional layer and baste it to the inside of the quilt top. Then, they trim the excess away from the design. Finally, they lay this padded top upon the batting and backing, where they will quilt it in place.

Corded quilting uses a cord or thick string in between two parallel lines of stitching to provide texture. Depending upon where you were and who taught you the method, the cord may have been inserted first and the quilting applied around it. Or the stitching may have been done first and the cord pulled through the channel afterward.

Welsh Quilting was brought back to life by Jen Jones. Like the Tristan example, quilts were made of one large piece of fabric or a few smaller pieces sewn together. One large design was typically quilted in the center, with a coordinating border pattern surrounding it. Welsh quilts are unique in that they do not have the typical binding we use now. Instead, the two pieces of fabric were folded in and sew together, much like you would finish a pillow cover. This type of seam is also know as a knife edge seam.

Whole cloth quilting is not just a historical craft. We have a few very gifted quilters today that are known for their whole cloth methods. One of my favorites is Cindy Needham. She is known for taking antique linens and quilting them into fabulous works of art. One one of these days, I will take one of here classes! In the meantime, I have been scouring her handbooks to learn more.

Have you every tried your had at a whole cloth quilting? The picture above was a small 36-inch square I made for my longarm certification. It was donated as part of the Linus project. Now, I will just have to make another! Please share pictures of your whole cloth quilts with us.

Happy Quilting!

Laureen

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