Quilt Notes

Applique Stitches in Early American Quilts

When attending the American Quilt Study Group Seminar in Lowell Massachusetts recently I spent some time taking a close look at the early quilts at the New England Quilt Museum. This is a small museum with a quality collection of quilts including some very early ones. They even provided a magnifying glass so the quilts could be examined.

I learned some time ago that quilters have not always used our current method of carefully hiding the stitches in the fold when doing applique by hand. In my article, Chintz Applique: The Art of Broderie Perse I discussed the early practice of gluing down the cut out chintz motifs then sewing the raw edges down with tiny blanket stitching. I've wondered how typical this was.

In Lowell I had a chance to examine broderie perse from as early as the late 18th century. The quilts I examined appeared to have the edges turned under but when I looked through the magnifying glass I was amazed to see tiny whip stitching adhering the cut out motifs to the quilts. As these early quilts had a lot of brown tones in them and the stitches were done with medium brown thread the fact that the stitches weren't hidden could not be seen by the naked eye.

I noticed this method on other appliqued quilts including later ones. I also observed applique done by tiny running stitches barely in from the folded edges. Other quilts appeared to have been done with a hidden stitch as we usually imagine.

Visit the New England Quilt Museum site.