History of Applique

Appliqué is the name given to the decorative technique of sewing fabric shapes to a background fabric of a different color and has been around in some form for as long as humans have been able to use a needle and thread. Some believe that the idea of appliqué may have come from patching holes in worn garments or linens.

In America the use of appliqué to create household textiles began in the 18th Century. The first examples were in the style called Broderie Perse. This name, meaning Persian embroidery in French, is thought to have originated around the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in London at the Crystal Palace, though the method was actually used for many years before the Great Exhibition.

When fabric became readily available, colorfast appliqué was used more and more to create beautiful bedcovers. Unlike patchwork, appliqué lends itself to curved and intricate shapes so more realistic designs can be used. Flowers look like flowers and people look like people. Story quilts became popular in the early 1800s to document important historical events such as battles or presidential inaugurations. These realistic techniques reached their zenith in the 1840s and 1850s. Some of the most intricate and beautiful appliqué quilts ever made were called Baltimore Album quilts because they were produced primarily in Maryland.

Baltimore Album quilts were also known as presentation quilts and autograph quilts. They were originally made to commemorate a festive event such as a wedding or as remembrances to be given to family or friends who might be moving too far away to have much hope of returning for visits. Each block was stitched and signed by a different person. The block design often had particular relevance to the person for whom the quilt was being made and the block was sometimes signed by the maker, hence the name autograph quilts.

At about the same time as Baltimore quilts were having their heyday, the spectacular Hawaiian quilt was being developed. On March 31, 1820, the brig Thaddeus brought the first American missionaries to Hawaii. Legend has it that within hours of debarkation the missionary ladies had organized a quilting lesson. The Hawaiian ladies did not like to cut the large lengths of fabric in to small pieces so they developed a way to use as large a piece as possible. It is believed that German sailors had shown the Hawaiians how to do Schneerenschnit, a paper cutting technique at an earlier time. The inventive Hawaiian ladies used a similar technique to cut out what must be the largest appliqué pieces in the world for their distinctive quilts.

The Hawaiians were not the only non-European people to take to appliqué. After fabric began being used for trade goods, tribal people in Central America and Asia developed some interesting and unusual forms of appliqué.

Celtic appliqué developed from the decorations used on Irish step dancing costumes. The complex designs are found carved on ancient stones all over Ireland. The appliqués are usually made with bias tape. Stained glass appliqué uses bias tape to emulate leading in stained glass windows. Shadow appliqués are made by covering a colored piece of fabric with a piece of organdy and stitching around the shape. 

Source:  www.quiltqua.com by Steffani McChesney


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