Quilting – Creative cuddling

"Quilting" describes the process of making a quilt. Many quilts have even found their way onto the walls of art galleries and museums. Whether they are subdued or brightly colored, in-your-face or artistic – quilts know no bounds. What many people don't know is that these unusual blankets have a long history.

DIY (Do It Yourself) is a big trend; individualism and cocooning are a reality in today's society. We live in an age in which we yearn for individuality while also wanting to feel grounded and at home. So, what better way to fulfill this yearning than to make your cocoon even more beautiful and cozy with a home-sewn quilt?Depending on your motive and ambition, sewing a quilt can be a time-consuming undertaking, but one that offers plenty of ways to express yourself artistically. Looking at just the crafting side of it, quilting involves sewing together three layers, known as the sandwich. It is on the top layer, the quilt top, that quilt stitch is used to create relief-style designs that give the blanket its unique look.

Is it art?

Quilting has evolved over the centuries and has become an intrinsic part of American folk culture. During the 1970s, pop culture and the hippie movement led to quilting becoming particularly fashionable, before it then became popular in Europe as well. Art quilting has established itself as a form of art. Nowadays, many quilts are highly sought-after pieces of art and design, relieved of their original function to be displayed on walls. The Studio Art Quilt Associates, Inc. (SAQA) is a charitable organization that promotes quilt artists and their work. Successful representatives of their craft include, for example, Katriina Flensburg, Nancy Crow, Libby Lehman, Sue Benner, Caryl Bryer Fallert, Brigitte Kopp, Mirjam Pet-Jacobs and others. Examples of art quilts can be found in various museums and exhibitions around the world:

  • European Quilt Triennal at Max Berk Textile Museum in Heidelberg (Germany)
  • National Quilt Museum (Paducah, Kentucky, USA)
  • International Quilt and Study Center (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
  • Dairy Barn Arts Center: Quilt International (Athens, Ohio, USA)

...and many more!


Patchwork or Quilt(ing)?

These terms are often used synonymously in Europe.  Quilting, however, is more common in American English. Patchwork means that small pieces of fabric are stitched together. Patching can also mean to repair or mend something. Not every quilt is made using this technique, though it is certainly true for many of them. The verb “to quilt” describes the process of sewing two or more pieces of fabric together. For art-oriented quilts, quilting often forms a significant part of the artistic work.

Quilts created without any patchwork are called “whole cloth quilts”. With earlier forms of padding, the top stitching had to be exceptionally fine to make sure the batting stayed in place, which made the overall work look like it was made up of lots of small pieces, a bit like a rag rug. The padding materials available today mean that makers can easily leave large areas of fabric unquilted.


An age-old craft

It is thought that quilting techniques were used in the Eastern cultures thousands of years ago and gradually spread from there. Crusaders back in the 12th Century would wear quilted doublets to protect them from the cold and bruises. To create these pieces, insulating material was sewn between two layers of material and fixed in place and decorated using quilting stitches. This technique soon caught on among civil society in Europe. British workhouses would even use newspaper as a cheap form of padding. Nowadays, padding is normally made from specially produced non-woven materials made from polyester, cotton or wool (batting).During the colonial period, the female members of the first British settlers brought quilting to the New World. And from the USA, it then found its way back to the Old World again. It has since evolved into a widespread hobby, which is also heavily influenced by advances in technology. From a crafting point of view, equipment like rotary cutters and longarm quilting machines have become essential.

Do it yourself!

One of the most classic works of quilting are large blankets – but sofa cushions, table cloths, bags, and potholders are also popular choices. Then you have quilts created purely for artistic purposes, some of which also include non-textile elements. So, quilting is not only extremely versatile, but also a fascinating combination of craft and art.The feeling of fulfillment from the process of crafting and the joy of creating something yourself couldn't be greater!

This article was written in friendly cooperation with the Patchwork Gilde Deutschland e.V. The goal of the Patchwork Gilde Deutschland e.V. is to promote and protect the traditional arts of patchwork and quilting.

References: Die Geschichte des Patchworkquilts: Ursprünge, Traditionen und Symbolik einer textilen Kunst, Schnuppe von Gwinner; Keyser 1987

Image rights
Image 3: Patchwork Gilde Deutschland/Corea Quilt Associate (Gabriele Fischer: Bridging Gaps)
Image 4: Patchwork Gilde Deutschland/Corea Quilt Associate (Urte Hanke: Cut)
Image 5: Patchwork Gilde Deutschland/Corea Quilt Associate (Britta Ankebauer: It isn't easy but...)
Image 6: Patchwork Gilde Deutschland/Corea Quilt Associate (Mi Kyung Hyun: Jeju, The island of peace)