When Did Applique Appear on Quilts?

Santa Fe Summer Design

We know from earlier posts that quilting started millennia ago. Some of the earliest forms were whole cloth quilts decorated with stitched designs augmented with trapunto and corded quilting. The next question in my mind was “when were whole cloth quilts embellished with applique?”

There are two schools of thought depending upon your social status. The first is applique was used to cover threadbare spots to make linens last longer. However, it was also used to decorate banners and other linens to denote importance and rank.

In the 1600s, Europeans started importing beautifully printed fabrics from India and the Middle East. These colorful fabrics were in great demand and threatened the wool and linen trades. So high tariffs were imposed, which made them very expensive. As a result, people used small amounts of them to decorate plainer pieces. This method has several names Broderie Perse (Persian embroidery) or cut-chintz and was very popular through the 1800s in both Europe and the Americas.

In the 1800s, applique work became more diverse and took on a local flair. Some better known examples are Baltimore Album quilts, Hawaiian quilts, and Mola quilts. Baltimore Album Quilts were created in the mid-1800’s before the US Civil War and used very specific design elements, which could be very elaborate or simpler. Hawaiian quilts existed before the missionaries arrived in the early 1800’s. After the arrival of the missionaries, they began using a snowflake style of cutting fabric for motifs that is the hallmark of Hawaiian quilts. Mola quilts of Panama began around the same period and use several layers of fabric for intricate designs, which mimic the body painting once used. They are not reverse appliqued as often published.

Other forms of applique became popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These included favorites such as Sunbonnet Sue and Overall Bill as well as Dresden Plate quilts. Dresden Plates were unique as the motif was sewn together in pieces prior to being appliqued. These designs used the brighter fabrics that became available to make cheery quilts.

Applique up until the 1960’s was consistent in one factor – it was all needle turned applique. Small stitches were used to turn under the raw edge of the fabric to create a smooth finished edge.

In the 1960’s, fusible interfacing was introduced in the market. This would have been the first time that fusible materials would have been available for applique work. With fusible interfacing, quilters started adhering pieces to the base fabric and then using decorative stitches around the edges to hold them in place and secure the raw edges. Of course, fusible interfacing wasn’t the only way to adhesive around. Spray basting and glues were also used.

I hope you follow some of these links to learn even more about applique. It is a fascinating area of quilting with endless possibilities.

Happy Quilting!

Laureen

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