Quilting is textile art that is based on functionality as well as artistic principles. Simply speaking, a quilt involves two or more layers sewn together to form one piece. The layers provide warmth while the top layer may feature a design achieved by the use of different fabrics or appliquéd materials. Quilting may be achieved by hand or with a sewing machine. Multiple people may even work on a single quilt together.
In Latin, the term quilt refers to a “stuffed sack.” This implies that many old quilts sandwiched a layer of material as an added insulation against cold and damp. In North America, pioneers were known to stuff feed sacks and even paper between their quilted layers. It’s unknown, however, when quilting first began. Its origins are quite ancient. The earliest known quilted materials date to 3400 B.C. in Egypt. One of the earliest surviving bed quilts comes from the island of Sicily and dates to the fifteenth century. It is comprised of linen and wool. Currently, this quilt can be viewed at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Quilted floor coverings go back in time somewhat further. Scholars traced an old quilted floor covering to Mongolia where it was used around the year 100 B.C. Ancient and medieval literature alludes to quilted garments and it is known that the Crusaders introduced quilted items from the Middle East into their European homelands. After the Crusades, quilted clothing became popular which led to the adoption of quilted bedding.
Common stitches used to create quilts include the running, rocking, and straight stitch. More complex stitches may be used to create an artistic effect. While many old European quilts depicted historic scenes or legends involving knights and battles, American quilts more popularly featured designs like medallions or stars. During the twentieth century, quilting became popular as an artistic medium. New techniques such as fabric photo transfers have also come into fashion in the last decade.
While historic quilting examples may be exhibited in museums or galleries, modern quilts may also be regarded as museum quality for their fine artistry. Quilts may exhibit elaborate scenes, embroidery, or complex designs. Some may be stylized after a particular art genre or created to commemorate an event. Today, artisans may still create quilts by hand, but sewing machines are greatly relied upon for part of the process. While quilted materials are still popularly used in clothing items and bedding materials, they are may also be framed and showcased on walls.