Old World Quilts

Old World Quilts

Old World Quilts transports us to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, an age of burgeoning global commerce and cultural exchange. Here you will view some of the earliest textiles from the International Quilt Museum’s collection. In this era, Europe’s desire for goods from unfamiliar, “exotic” Asian cultures led to unprecedented growth in overseas trade, which also fueled a boom in domestic manufacturing and fed a growing consumer mentality. The introduction of novel production techniques and materials, as well as the development of hybrid designs and aesthetic approaches, resulted in textile designs that are still relevant in our lives today.

The global sea trade initially began with the 1498 discovery of a sea route around Africa’s southern tip leading to India. Prior to 1500, existing land routes—including the Silk Road—were primary conduits for bringing Asian goods to Europe. However, the gradual loss of Roman territory in Asia and the rise of Arab power in the Middle East pushed merchants to seek other passageways. By 1600, the major trading companies of the Portuguese, Dutch, and English were importing great quantities of silk and cotton textiles by sea from India, China, and Japan as a part of the lucrative Asian spice trade. Textiles very quickly became prized commodities used in home décor and clothing.

Textiles imported to Europe reflected the traditions of the Asian regions where they were produced, but also the preferences of the consumers in the European countries where they were sold. Merchants requested specific colors and figures; patterns, books, and painted images called “musters” were sent to Indian production centers specifically for tailoring designs to individual markets. Even with these modifications, key materials, motifs, and aesthetic elements remained fashionable for centuries, forming a global textile language that ties these Old World Quilts together.

The quilts in this exhibition are from the International Quilt Museum’s Permanent Collection.

Common Elements

Common Elements
Common Elements

India

India
India

Indian textiles were introduced to Europe early in the seventeenth century and quickly sparked a shift in consumer taste. Wool and silk fabrics were replaced in home décor and clothing with brightly colored printed and painted cotton textiles that were washable, colorfast, and comfortable. 

India’s long-established textile producing communities, particularly along the country’s eastern coast, were masters of mordant dyeing, a specialized technique required for adhering dye to cotton fabric. Mordant paste, composed of metallic salts of alum, tin, or copper for example, were printed on the cloth’s surface. When dipped into a dye such as madder, chemical reactions between the dye and mordant produced distinctive colors, many of which were new to Western eyes.

Indian mordant-dyed cotton textiles were so popular that both England and France established laws banning their import in a bid to save their diminishing wool and silk industries. Spanning most of the eighteenth century, the prohibition on printed cotton imports spurred European manufacturers to become skilled at mordant dyeing themselves and to develop machinery that sped up production. By the time the bans were lifted, India had lost its global dominance in printed cotton production.

Yellow Silk

Yellow Silk
Yellow Silk

The use of yellow silk in rare surviving seventeenth- and eighteenth-century quilted textiles points to its popularity among European consumers. Early research suggested that these distinctive yellow silk pieces were imports from India, where similar stitching and dyeing techniques were used in Bengali embroideries known as colchas and whole cloth woven silk quilts from the port city of Goa. 

Recent chemical analysis, however, identifies the yellow dye as weld, which is commonly available in Europe. Thus, scholars today suggest a likely southern European or Greek origin. This follows a common trend in textile importation and production of the period: as a particular type of Asian textile became popular, European producers rushed to replicate it locally in order to reduce costs and shipping risks. Asian techniques were thus combined with European designs in hybrid styles that supplied upper-class buyers with the exotic textiles they desired.

Yellow silk was produced in woven lengths used to construct whole cloth quilts, in embroidery floss used to create figural designs, and in thread used in chain-stitch and false quilting stitches. The quilts’ common design elements, techniques, and materials point to a shared origin. However, no information regarding a specific production center is known.

Europe

Europe
Europe

Trade textiles were produced by one culture to be sold to another. They often reveal a conglomeration of design and technical features. New and exotic designs were imitated by craftspersons in the West, stimulating markets and production. By the mid-1700s, Asian designs had been thoroughly integrated into the European aesthetic sensibility, stimulated by increased fabric imports from Asia.

Works in Exhibition

Works in Exhibition

Whole Cloth Quilt
Circa 1930-1940
Unidentified Maker
Possibly made in Europe or United States
Gift of Titi Halle
2012.027.0001

Old World Quilts features some of the earliest known quilts in existence. They hold an undeniable appeal. In the twentieth century, a resurgence of interest in bygone eras spurred the creation of replicas of these early quilts. This unusual example was purchased in a department store in New York in the 1930s. It is an accurate reproduction of rare seventeenth-century quilts similar to those seen in this exhibition.

[Common Elements: C, F]

Medallion Quilt
Circa 1700-1725
Unidentified Maker
Made in United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2009.001.0001

Prior to 1600 and the introduction of Indian embroideries, England had a long tradition of embroidery, particularly focused on ecclesiastical textiles. In the seventeenth century, however, after exposure to the brilliant colors and designs of Indian artisans, English needleworkers embraced a new style of design in quilts, coverlets, and wall hangings. 

These two English embroidered quilts contain remarkable similarities, including their embroidered figures of people, animals, and flowers, an overall format, and false quilting in the body of the quilt. The pieces share construction methods, with pre-embroidered panels sewn together to create the whole. Both also have unadorned lower corners. Presumably, this was to allow for cut-aways to accommodate a four-poster bed.

Unusual and exotic figures abound. Turbaned men hold parasols while smiling women offer flowers. Unicorns and other antlered animals are seen in full stride along with peacocks, romping dogs, squirrels, and a wide variety of birds, all set amidst a variety of curving vines and long-stemmed flowers. The designs were likely taken from popular embroidery pattern books. 

Embroideries such as these would most likely have been made by professionals—many professional embroidery companies operated in London in the eighteenth century, and individual needleworkers were hired to serve in country houses. Could these quilts, with so many shared elements, have the same place of origin? 

[Common Elements: M, E, FQ, F

Medallion Quilt
Circa 1700-1725
Unidentified Maker
Made in United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2009.001.0001

Prior to 1600 and the introduction of Indian embroideries, England had a long tradition of embroidery, particularly focused on ecclesiastical textiles. In the seventeenth century, however, after exposure to the brilliant colors and designs of Indian artisans, English needleworkers embraced a new style of design in quilts, coverlets, and wall hangings. 

These two English embroidered quilts contain remarkable similarities, including their embroidered figures of people, animals, and flowers, an overall format, and false quilting in the body of the quilt. The pieces share construction methods, with pre-embroidered panels sewn together to create the whole. Both also have unadorned lower corners. Presumably, this was to allow for cut-aways to accommodate a four-poster bed.

Unusual and exotic figures abound. Turbaned men hold parasols while smiling women offer flowers. Unicorns and other antlered animals are seen in full stride along with peacocks, romping dogs, squirrels, and a wide variety of birds, all set amidst a variety of curving vines and long-stemmed flowers. The designs were likely taken from popular embroidery pattern books. 

Embroideries such as these would most likely have been made by professionals—many professional embroidery companies operated in London in the eighteenth century, and individual needleworkers were hired to serve in country houses. Could these quilts, with so many shared elements, have the same place of origin? 

[Common Elements: M, E, FQ, F

Medallion Quilt
Circa 1715-1730
Unidentified Maker
Probably made in England, United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2006.004.0001

Exotic imagery is featured in this monochromatic embroidered English quilt. An elaborately adorned elephant is ridden by a man in a canopied howdah (carrier) while a dragon and an oversized butterfly fly overhead. Symmetrically placed human figures playing instruments, holding parasols and lanterns, and waving are stitched along the outer edge of the body of the quilt. 

The stitched scenes are imagined depictions of life in South and East Asia. Chinese-inspired landscapes, buildings, and figures were particularly popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but were often based on inaccurate or incomplete information. These fanciful images were meant to evoke a feeling of exoticness, and as a style were referred to as “chinoiserie.”

[Common Elements:  M, C, FQ, E, F

Palampore, quilted 
Circa 1775-1800
Unidentified Maker
Made in India
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2016.040.0003

Indian palampores—printed and painted textiles used as table covers, floor coverings, and prayer rugs—were some of the earliest textiles to reach Europe. They illustrate a standard for design that swept through the world as Indian textiles flooded Europe. Note the similarity in the three examples here: the symmetrical center medallion is framed by a field of small printed motifs and anchored by quartered sections of the center design. The body of the piece is framed once more with a border featuring fanciful flowers and curving vines. This overall format was prevalent in early textiles and remained popular even into the early years of the nineteenth century when it was seen in English and American quilts. 

[Common Elements: M, F

 

Palampore, quilted 
1790-1810
Unidentified Maker
Possibly made in India
Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection
2008.040.0218

 

Indian palampores—printed and painted textiles used as table covers, floor coverings, and prayer rugs—were some of the earliest textiles to reach Europe. They illustrate a standard for design that swept through the world as Indian textiles flooded Europe. Note the similarity in the three examples here: the symmetrical center medallion is framed by a field of small printed motifs and anchored by quartered sections of the center design. The body of the piece is framed once more with a border featuring fanciful flowers and curving vines. This overall format was prevalent in early textiles and remained popular even into the early years of the nineteenth century when it was seen in English and American quilts. 

[Common Elements: M, F]

Palampore, quilted 
Circa 1800-1830
Unidentified Maker
Made in India
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2016.048.0001

Indian palampores—printed and painted textiles used as table covers, floor coverings, and prayer rugs—were some of the earliest textiles to reach Europe. They illustrate a standard for design that swept through the world as Indian textiles flooded Europe. Note the similarity in the three examples here: the symmetrical center medallion is framed by a field of small printed motifs and anchored by quartered sections of the center design. The body of the piece is framed once more with a border featuring fanciful flowers and curving vines. This overall format was prevalent in early textiles and remained popular even into the early years of the nineteenth century when it was seen in English and American quilts. 

[Common Elements: M, F]

Palampore, quilted
1750-1800
Unidentified Maker
Possibly made in India or Persia
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2005.037.0002

This small center medallion quilt is composed entirely of wood-block printed designs on cotton. Its red coloration is characteristic of early fabric printed in India and is a style that became particularly popular in the Netherlands. English merchants, by contrast, requested white grounds instead of red and sent patterns popular with their customers for Indian dyers to follow. Note how several small rectangular patches of the printed fabric are pieced together to complete the body of this piece, which is quilted with a subtle chevron pattern. 

[Common Elements: M, F]

Medallion Quilt 
Circa 1600-1650
Unidentified Maker
Probably made in Persia or India
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2011.002.0001

Chain stitch embroidery was employed in this center medallion quilt for the floral designs and the quilting. Its use helps to identify this as an Indian or Persian quilt, likely a floor covering. Surrounding the ogival center design is a series of boteh: a floral spray with a leaf curving over the top. Boteh are found widely in Indian design, and evolved into what we know today as paisley.

[Common Elements: M, E, F]

Palampore, quilted
Circa 1770-1790
Possibly made by I. Quane
Probably made in India
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2006.004.0003

Each corner of this printed and quilted palampore is inscribed with the name “I. Quane.” No known individual by this name has been identified in historical records. The palampore also includes a stamp of the United East India Company, which was established in 1698 when rivalling British East India companies merged. This insignia was stamped on all import goods after 1708. 

The Tree of Life motif—seen in each half of this roughly bilaterally symmetrical quilt—became popular in Europe in the seventeenth century when traders began importing textiles from South and East Asia. To many cultures, the tree symbolizes immortality, protection, knowledge, and healing.

[Common Elements: M]

Medallion Quilt
Circa 1650-1700
Unidentified Maker
Probably Made in England, United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation 
2009.014.0001

These yellow silk embroidered pieces were made roughly 100 years apart, evidencing the longevity of yellow silk’s popularity. Both textiles were made in England, and reflect the West’s seventeenth- and eighteenth-century assimilation of Asian sensibilities into its design vocabulary. 

The piece displayed flat holds an array of exotic, crested, long-tailed birds in its golden embroidery.  The central focus is a medallion containing a large bird perched on a branch amidst curving lines with additional birds stitched along the medallion’s outer edge. The figures are composed of a combination of chain and satin stitches that form a raised, textured effect. The ground behind these elaborate designs is accented by French knots. False quilting fills the remaining body of the quilt along with a scattering of chain-stitched animals and fish. The linen base fabric is deteriorating—the roughly woven backing fabric can be seen through the web of remaining fabric.

The second piece also relies on embroidery to create its imagery. It has a random pattern used throughout the body of the quilt that is composed entirely of false or back-stitch quilting. The outer border of the quilt was originally stitched with a metallic thread. Tiny, thin strips of metal originally wrapped around the cotton thread have nearly completely disappeared, leaving only a shadowy outline in some areas.

[Common Elements: M, FQ, E, F, Y]

Center Square Quilt
Circa 1740-1760
Unidentified Maker
Made in United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2006.002.0001

These yellow silk embroidered pieces were made roughly 100 years apart, evidencing the longevity of yellow silk’s popularity. Both textiles were made in England, and reflect the West’s seventeenth- and eighteenth-century assimilation of Asian sensibilities into its design vocabulary. 

The piece displayed flat holds an array of exotic, crested, long-tailed birds in its golden embroidery.  The central focus is a medallion containing a large bird perched on a branch amidst curving lines with additional birds stitched along the medallion’s outer edge. The figures are composed of a combination of chain and satin stitches that form a raised, textured effect. The ground behind these elaborate designs is accented by French knots. False quilting fills the remaining body of the quilt along with a scattering of chain-stitched animals and fish. The linen base fabric is deteriorating—the roughly woven backing fabric can be seen through the web of remaining fabric.

The second piece also relies on embroidery to create its imagery. It has a random pattern used throughout the body of the quilt that is composed entirely of false or back-stitch quilting. The outer border of the quilt was originally stitched with a metallic thread. Tiny, thin strips of metal originally wrapped around the cotton thread have nearly completely disappeared, leaving only a shadowy outline in some areas.

[Common Elements: M, FQ, E, F, Y]

Whole Cloth Quilt
Circa 1600
Unidentified Maker
Probably made in the Mediterranean [region of Europe] 
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2009.014.0002

Yellow silk appears in this pair of whole cloth quilts, whose designs are defined by corded floral and figural designs. These examples are part of a small group of surviving pieces in museum collections that share materials, construction techniques, and designs, including a yellow top and a red backing. They remain, however, a mystery—their provenance is unknown. Current research suggests they were made in southern European countries; however, no documentation has been discovered to conclusively support this hypothesis.

In the quilt on the right, architectural forms create vertical registers filled with twisting forms that include human figures and leaping, snarling, dog-like animals set amidst branches and flowers. Under the central arch a musician strums a popular seventeenth-century stringed instrument—the viola da gamba. Above him, a woman draws a bow across another instrument while facing a soldier grasping an animal by the tail. Below the center, soldiers with raised swords and shields appear to be hunting some of the strange, fantastical animals that are found throughout the quilt. Unique portraits are featured in the roundels at the apexes of the arches and in the four corners. The design of the quilt on the left consists wholly of floral imagery, set within a framework of intertwining sashing.

Today, eight known examples of these seventeenth-century Whole Cloth quilts remain. Further research promises to reveal more of their shared history.

[Common Elements: C, F, Y]

Whole Cloth Quilt
Circa 1600
Unidentified Maker
Probably made in the Mediterranean [region of Europe] 
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2009.014.0003

Yellow silk appears in this pair of whole cloth quilts, whose designs are defined by corded floral and figural designs. These examples are part of a small group of surviving pieces in museum collections that share materials, construction techniques, and designs, including a yellow top and a red backing. They remain, however, a mystery—their provenance is unknown. Current research suggests they were made in southern European countries; however, no documentation has been discovered to conclusively support this hypothesis.

In the quilt on the right, architectural forms create vertical registers filled with twisting forms that include human figures and leaping, snarling, dog-like animals set amidst branches and flowers. Under the central arch a musician strums a popular seventeenth-century stringed instrument—the viola da gamba. Above him, a woman draws a bow across another instrument while facing a soldier grasping an animal by the tail. Below the center, soldiers with raised swords and shields appear to be hunting some of the strange, fantastical animals that are found throughout the quilt. Unique portraits are featured in the roundels at the apexes of the arches and in the four corners. The design of the quilt on the left consists wholly of floral imagery, set within a framework of intertwining sashing.

Today, eight known examples of these seventeenth-century Whole Cloth quilts remain. Further research promises to reveal more of their shared history.

[Common Elements: C, F, Y]

Medallion Quilt
Circa 1750
Unidentified Maker
Made in Netherlands
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2012.027.0001

The Dutch East India Company began importing spices and textiles from India and the Maluku Islands in 1601. This Star crib quilt is a rare surviving piece that illustrates the popularity in the Netherlands of red ground fabrics traditional to southeastern India’s Coromandel coast. The block-printed, mordant-dyed cotton top was likely quilted in Holland. 

[Common Elements: M, F]

Palampore, quilted 
Circa 1740-1760
Unidentified Maker
Probably made in India, quilted in Netherlands
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2006.055.0001

This unique heraldic palampore, printed in India, was likely commissioned for a merchant of the Dutch East India Company, as it holds a coat of arms closely related to the city of The Hague in The Netherlands—a stork holding a black eel in its beak. Four leaping dolphins are printed in the circular motifs at each corner of the body of the quilt.

Textiles such as this identified the owner as a person of status and wealth. They also represent the hybrid quality of many of the imports coming from India that were printed with designs from the market for which they were made while incorporating a traditional form and technique. Although the block-printed top panel is Indian, the quilting is more typical of European work. 

[Common Elements: M, F]

Whole Cloth Quilt
Circa 1710-1730
Unidentified Maker
Made in United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2006.004.0004

This English embroidered piece is one of the most exquisitely worked quilts in the IQM collection. The flame-stitched flowers are delicately shaded, with raised details in the stamens. Elements of the center medallion and flowers are stitched with metallic threads couched in place with yellow silk, which is also used in the false or flat quilting. 

Only four examples of similar textiles are known. Scholars believe that they were made as commemorative pieces, placed upon a bed as a part of a marriage celebration.

[Common Elements: M, FQ, E, F, Y]

Whole Cloth Quilt
Circa 1700-1800
Unidentified Maker
Made in France
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2016.040.0004

France developed a silk-weaving industry in the sixteenth century to supply consumers in the upper classes—the court and members of the nobility—with luxury textiles such as this double-sided quilt. Ownership of a piece like this indicated wealth and social position. 

The silk was quilted in an overall design and then corded. In addition, various elements of the curving arabesques—decorative motifs typical of the rococo era—are stuffed with extra batting to create a raised effect. 

[Common Elements: M, C, F]

Whole Cloth Quilt
Circa 1750
Unidentified Maker
Made in Gateshead-on-Tyne, United Kingdom 
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2015.101.0001

A lattice basket is stitched in the center of this whitework quilt, filled with large flowers and serrated foliage. The unidentified maker used a cording technique wherein narrow channels were stitched into the quilt’s three layers and a thin cord, typically inserted through small holes in the backing fabric, was drawn through to fill them. The raised design is subtly revealed through the play of light and shadow over the quilt’s surface.

Whitework became popular first in the city of Marseilles in southern France. However, when the plague devastated the port city in the 1720s, English producers rushed to supply the whitework pieces so highly in demand for home furnishings and décor.

[Common Elements: M, F]

Medallion Quilt
Circa 1720-1750
Unidentified Maker
Probably made in Norway or Sweden
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2015.052.0001

Exquisite workmanship, a vibrant palette, and unusual techniques and textiles combine to dazzle in this rare Scandinavian quilt. The polychrome flowers, leaves, and scallop shells are densely worked in long-and-short stitches, stem stitches, and French knots, while laid filling stitches create a textural effect in the white flowers on the blue silk taffeta border. A chevron pattern stands out against the densely stitched quilting. The sophisticated needlework suggests that the piece was made in a professional workshop. 

Chinese “slips” (pre-embroidered designs, which have been appliquéd to the quilt) hold long-tailed birds perched on flowering branches and dragons on delicate sprigs. The inclusion of these slips attests to the flourishing maritime trade between Sweden and China in the eighteenth century. The Swedish East India Company (1731-1813) established commercial ties with Chinese merchants from whom they purchased tea, porcelain, spices, and silk—commodities that were in great demand in the West. In addition, the elaborately ornamental or rococo aesthetic makes evident the strong ties between the Scandinavian aristocratic and merchant classes and their other European counterparts. In this era, predominant decorative styles crossed national borders and waterways with ease. 

[Common Elements: M, E, F]

Fabric Fragment
Circa 1720
Unidentified Maker
Made in United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2018.050.0001 

This fragment is typical of early-eighteenth-century English needlework, with spot motifs placed regularly against a flat-quilted vermicular or meander ground pattern. The floral designs were likely variations of those found in English pattern books, such as the Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing by John Stalker and George Parker published in 1688. The English term japanning was inspired by the delicate designs of Japanese lacquer ware.

[Common Elements: FQ, E, F]

Fabric Fragment
Circa 1690-1710
Unidentified Maker
Made in United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2006.030.0001

This monochromatic fragment incorporates a number of expert stitching techniques, including satin stitch, which fills a design with straight long stitches, and bullion stitch, wherein one thread is wrapped carefully around a base thread to create a raised design. This fragment was likely a segment of a larger piece that was cut down. It was treasured due to the complexity of the stitching—note the pinholes around the outer edge, indicating that at some point this piece was mounted and displayed with its raw edges. 

[Common Elements: E, F]

Petticoat Fragment
Circa 1710
Unidentified Maker
Possibly made in United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2018.050.0004

The overall format of this uncompleted fragment indicates that it was likely meant for use as a petticoat. The elaborate rococo floral designs, characterized by an exuberant use of curving natural forms, are placed in the lower half of the piece where they would have been visible under an open skirt. The use of yellow silk is a clue to its early-eighteenth-century origin.

[Common Elements: FQ, E, F, Y]

Cradle Curtains
Circa 1780-1800
Unidentified Maker
Made in United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2016.040.0001 and 2016.040.0002

These matching silk pieces are identified as a pair of cradle panels. Each panel has a narrow pocket stitched on the reverse, which was used to hold a rod for hanging it on the cradle frame. Tiny quilting stitches create a diamond grid in the body of the pieces, surrounded on three sides by a scrolling outer border. A minute row of lace adds another layer of decoration to the panels. The delicate silk and intricate workmanship emphasize the importance of a cherished infant’s first bed.

Cradle Curtains
Circa 1780-1800
Unidentified Maker
Made in United Kingdom
Gift of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation
2016.040.0001 and 2016.040.0002

These matching silk pieces are identified as a pair of cradle panels. Each panel has a narrow pocket stitched on the reverse, which was used to hold a rod for hanging it on the cradle frame. Tiny quilting stitches create a diamond grid in the body of the pieces, surrounded on three sides by a scrolling outer border. A minute row of lace adds another layer of decoration to the panels. The delicate silk and intricate workmanship emphasize the importance of a cherished infant’s first bed.

Works in Exhibition

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Help us protect our collection by keeping a safe distance.

The quilts in Old World Quilts are among the oldest, rarest, and most fragile objects in the International Quilt Museum’s collection. Gallery stanchions are in place throughout our galleries as a helpful guide to keep your distance.

Event Date
Friday, September 6, 2019 to Sunday, July 12, 2020