Patchwork Quilts - Their origins and development

written by Jean Gibson published in 1992


You Tube video with Jean Gibson of Linen Lace and Patchwork demonstrating how to dress an antique bed

please visit our new website: www.seat-pads.co.uk

Out of the last decade, one of the better things to emerge has been the rekindling of interest in recycling and inevitably the decor that goes with it Shaker - the early American Quaker lifestyle, which was prudent and fairly spartan, coming as a welcome relief after overdosing on designer-label mania.

It may be thought that patchwork - a very important part of the Shaker lifestyle - is a throwback to the 60s, but it has a lot more interest and depth than recent culture, though it's true that, largely due to the flower-power predilection, patchwork did enjoy a renaissance thirty years ago. Like most ideas borne of necessity, the patchwork quilt was the fruit of handsome invention, crossing the ocean with the Pilgrim Fathers who emigrated to America. They could take very little, but bed furniture was always included in anticipation of cold winters ahead.

They survived - just -and the land was eventually conquered. The early settlers were poor and could not replace essential possessions. Everything was repaired again and again and this was certainly true of the family quilts, which were patched up with scraps of fabric from old clothing. After many repairs, the quilt top began to resemble a patchwork design more than solid fabric and these were the precursors of the beautiful and inventive patterns of the 18th and 19th centuries, now elevated to an art form and highly prized.

As the struggle for survival gave way to economic prosperity and commercial routes opened to the Near East and Orient, imported fabrics became available on the Atlantic seaboard, but the thrifty Colonial housewife still made use of every scrap of fabric. Women left alone for long periods of time formed what were called Quilting Bees. These social gatherings fulfilled many functions, keeping the women’s spirits high, when family circles were broken either by leaving for the West or by death and often the two were synonymous. Taken with them to - often hazardous - new frontiers, the quilts were used as 'kinship bonds' hence the name ‘comforters’, a reminder of family ties and more pleasant days spent gossiping over quilting frames.

In what may now seem mawkish, quilts often had coffins appliqued on them, labelled with departed family members' names, by sleeping under this "comforter" they would be reunited with loved ones every night. Popularity only started wane with the Industrial Revolution and the availability of cheaper printed materials and this remained more of less so until the 60’s revival.

Patchwork has also featured in literature, in Dickens' novels David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. It was a synonym for poverty. One reads of ‘crackling quilts' - a reference to the padding which was generally paper and used by the poor for cheap warmth and looking around London now, you see that little has changed.

The earliest record of patchwork and quilting varies, although it probably originates from the Orient thousands of years ago. The technique was brought back to Europe from the Near East by the Crusaders. In battle they wore heavy iron armour but suffered defeat to the Saracens in their more mobile light quilted shirts and chain mail, so it seemed prudent to introduce the idea to Europe. After firearms came into common use they became superfluous to battle, but the technique became more widely used for the production of many utilitarian textiles. We may not be able to afford an original quilt: now fetching high prices in auction houses around the world, but we can enjoy and comfortably afford a modern day version. A patchwork quilt used alone on summer nights with a lace flat sheet, gives an effect that is both charming and different. In winter, a couple of fleecy blankets complete the cosy picture.

Buyers of these beautiful quilts - now made in China and India - form no social pattern. They are trendy among the young, popular with young families, the middle-aged adore them and of course the more senior members of the family have always loved them. Because the designs are timeless, they grace any setting, modern, Art Deco or Victorian. And they don't just stay in the bedroom. An effective way to rejuvenate an old sofa is to use the quilt as a throw and when those long, winter nights creep up on us, just pull the quilt around to keep out the draughts. Mixing patchwork with William Morris arts & crafts designs work extremely well together in either modern or traditional decor.

Jean Gibson runs the Linen Lace and Patchwork House, based at her home in South Benfleet, Essex. She has many designs that are copied from the old Mid-West designs in a wide array of colours with sizes ranging up to superking. The website also has a wide range of readymade curtains, cushions, seatpads, lace and bedlinens. As well as a comprehensive range of childrens patchwork quilts . along with cot quilts for baby girls and boys. She is always delighted to help and advise customers on choice and is considered an expert in the art of dressing beds both Antique and Modern. Her telephone number is 01268 793336 or 07767 403276 where she'll be happy to chat about your requirements.  

Click on links below to see our Patchwork Quilt display pages, go to our Home Page for the vast range of soft furnishings or take a look at our former Showrooms for innovative and inspiring ideas. if you're interested in the history of patchwork you may also be interested in the equally fascinating history of lace.


lace tablecloths
voile curtains
cashmere blankets
sale room
superking bedspreads
traditional quilts
percale bed linen
antique beds
kitchen and dining
fair trade quilts
william morris
luxury furnishings
my home
silk satin sheets
duvet covers
patchwork quilts
children's bedlinen
white linen
luxury superking
bedroom sets
tub chairs
lace bedding
seat pads
flemish tapestries
egyptian cotton
malabar fabrics
nursery cot bedding


patchwork quilts ethically sourced patchwork quilts from India our showrooms in benfleet, essex our former showrooms in Leigh on Sea

my home and garden a saunter around Jean Gibson's home and garden great for ideas on a budget and a look at our showroom

back to home page

 A history of Lace: what you didn't know Youtube video  

Visit Our Blog


jean gibsons blog, stories, adventures and musings


site designed and built by Jean Gibson
Tel: 01268 793336 mob: 07767 403276