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09/24/2012 / accfiber

Patchwork: production

Quilts are typically considered an American innovation, and while it is true that American woman have contributed much to the development of the craft, credit goes to English and Dutch colonists for bringing quilting to the New World. Prior to the 1700s, quilting was generally used to embellish and add warmth to garments, but was seldom used for bedding. Blankets were mostly woven, as yardage was costly, and any quilts that existed in the colonies were wholecloth and likely imported. These quilts were status symbols, indicating that the owner was either wealthy enough to buy a luxury item, or possessed enough leisure time to complete a quilt herself.

Wholecloth quilt, circa 1600, Int’l Quilt Study Center & Museum

Europeans first got their hands on Indian cotton fabric in the 16th and 17th centuries, and Indian textiles were prized for the fine quality of their substrate and prints. We can see the extent of the Indian textile influence in the word “calico” (which once encompassed most any cotton printed fabric), which derives from Calicut, an Indian textile production center. As the English textile market shifted from woven patterns to printed patterns, their style followed that of India, and Indian-printed fabric was still preferred over English. Toward the end of the 1600s and the beginning of the 1700s, English and French governments banned Indian fabrics, which led to further imitation of Indian patterns.

my block printed textiles, Surface I @ ACC

Fabric from this time period was generally block printed, a method we explored in Surface I. Pictured above is a photo of my own yardage from last semester. Although our blocks are linoleum and our dyes synthetic, the process has changed little over the centuries. Small details were added by hand and outlines were created by attaching strips of metal to wooden blocks, which could be an interesting tool for today’s surface designer. I can attest to the fact that the block printing process is a slow one, and it was eventually overtaken by faster methods of printing, such as copperplate (pictured below).

British copper plate printed textile, 1780-90s, V&A Museum

It is interesting to note the crossover between printmaking and textile printing methods. By the late 1700s, the first roller printed textiles hit the market. This process significantly reduced printing time, leading to a boom in production and causing yardage to be affordable to even modest households.

roller-printed textiles

The terrifyingly pink fabric pictured below would have taken many hours to produce by block print in any significant quantity, but it was printed efficiently via the roller system. By the close of the first quarter of the 1800s, most textiles used in quilts were roller printed. Innovations in textile production and printing methods very much influenced the trajectory of quiltmaking by increasing accessibility.

English roller printed textile, 1830, V&A Museum

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