Whole cloth

February, 2019

Whole cloth

Maker unidentified

Probably made in Marseille, France
Circa 1830-1850
70 × 58 in
IQM 2008.040.0157, Byron and Sara Dillow Collection

This ceremonial wedding bedcover represents the highest expression of 19th-century all-white broderie de Marseille. These quilts are a form of three-dimensional textile sculpture that use plain white cloth and white cording. The designs were expertly created by skillful professional needlewomen in Marseille, France. 

Click here to view the quilt in detail.

From the 2010-2011 exhibition "Marseille: White Corded Quilting":

A central floral wreath marked with hearts encloses the superimposed letters J and R. This luxuriant arrangement speaks the language of love — lilacs for tender love, peonies for sincere love, and roses, queen of flowers, for passionate love. Irises portend a happy future for the couple. Daisies symbolize femininity, and lilies-of-the-valley represent love’s eternal springtime.

The border holds a bower of flowers mingled with fruits: apricots, figs, melons, plums, and pears bursting with juice; entwined grapes and grapevines; and the open blossoms and plump fruit of tomato plants. Each corner holds an artichoke, a cardoon or a pineapple, their leaves gracefully curved to resemble a lyre. Look also for four birds, one alighting to pluck a berry. Note the pattern line markings in blue and graphite remain visible.

Just imagine — the newly married couple enters their bedchamber. This exquisite piece lies on the bed, its magnificent forms limned with candlelight. The bedcover itself serves as a lovely metaphor for a happy marriage — designed and pursued with dexterity and patience, and full of beauty and grace.