The Sultan of Quilts

The Sultan of Quilts

My aunt just gave me a handmade quilt as a gift. It is absolutely gorgeous. It took her the better part of a year to handcraft what I can only consider a work of art. When I look at the richness of the colors I am reminded of old-fashioned stained glass windows in a little chapel in a wood. It is so stunning a focal piece I decided to make it a wall hanging in my bedroom. I cleverly managed some backlighting to get the full “stained glass” effect. However, to protect the fabric, I keep the backlighting on sparingly.

This is not my only quilt. I have one my sister made me which is a favorite and beautifies my bed frequently. I made two quilts myself and am working on my third. I have another quilt give me by my paternal grandmother on my sixteenth birthday. I was too young to appreciate how precious this gift was so, rather than treasure it protectively, I used it almost every day. It now is quite ragged and I have had to patch numerous squares, but, I will never get rid of it. I don’t use it any longer except as a decorative throw over a chair in a spare room.

In America the word “quilt” is usually associated with mental images of hard-working pioneer women. However, quilting is a craft that has been performed round the world in almost every culture since the beginning of civilized man’s history once mankind began creating textiles. And quilts are not all patchwork pieces of scrap fabric. In the early nineteenth century, beautiful applique quilts were all the rage. Throughout the fifteenth century military men of wealth who could afford a suit of armor wore quilted garments underneath.

Quilting technique layers fabric that sandwiches a type of padding between the layers. Decorative stitching in creative patterns holds all the layers together. Because most textiles degrade and rot away to dust, it is impossible to determine exactly when in history the first quilted product was made. However, the oldest object was found in a Siberian tomb in 1971. It was a quilted carpet constructed of linen. The decorative needlework depicted animals and abstract images like spirals.

Quilts were treasured for many reasons. In cold climates they provided warmth without creating excessive bulk. The layers created strength yet allowed the quilt to remain soft and flexible. Quilts could be used just about anywhere warmth and softness was needed, such as saddle blankets and clothing. Because each one was unique, a clever seamstress could trade a fantastically designed quilt for luxury items and fine goods.

Because quilting does not make much of an appearance in European history until after the twelfth century, it is thought that perhaps quilting originated in the Middle or Far East and the skill was imported during the time of the Crusades. As trade relations increased during the Renaissance between Europe and Eastern nations, quilted products became more and more popular throughout Europe.

The Ottomans provided rich, fashionable quilted caftans as well as quilted bed coverings and linens. It was the tradition of the Ottoman Empire to gift foreign ambassadors with clothing. It is highly probable rich, quilted and embroidered garments returned to Europe in the luggage of political envoys. Quilting very quickly became “en vogue” among European aristocrats. Any decent young woman would have several quilts among the items of her “dowry”.

Quilts Stacked Up

The late seventeenth century featured quilting as part of a new fashion trend. Petticoats were quilted. And, not to slight the men, they also sported quilted waistcoats and caps. As the colonists in the New World began to develop their own culture, American patchwork quilts became well known for their bright colors and crazy patterns.

 

So, even though quilting has a strong presence in America, it is simply another import. It made its way to the shores of the North American continent from the Far and Middle East after first making a strong impression on Europe. The next time I’m wrapped up snugly in bed with my quilt, I can fantasize about how I could be in a guest bedchamber of a great Sultan, because that is, after all, most likely where it all began!