When Maggie Bishop invited me to do a guest blog on Dames of Dialogue, she requested I talk about a craft. A craft? That would mean I’d have to pick only one of the myriad of crafts I enjoy. Now, that definitely presented itself as a dilemma. After much consideration, I decided to share with you a bit about appliqué because A) I love working with fabrics and B) who doesn’t like quilts?
The word appliqué is derived from the Latin applicare, meaning “to join or attach,” and the French appliquer, meaning “to put on.” Although no one knows for certain, it’s believed that the art of appliqué originated in India and Persia and from there was brought to Europe, where it was used as a less labor-intensive substitute for raised embroidery in the decoration of linens, vestments, and alter cloths.
Often described as painting with fabric, appliqué is the fancy cousin of patchwork. In patchwork, quilts are made by piecing together small geometric shapes of fabric to form one large piece. Appliquéd quilts are made from cutting out fabric shapes and stitching them onto a large piece of background fabric. The appliqué pieces are often stuffed with padding to add dimension to the quilt.
Like patchwork quilts, early appliquéd quilts were usually completed by a group of women at a quilting bee, a social gathering where the women exchanged news and gossip as they stitched. Often the bee concluded with the men and children arriving for a communal supper.
The patchwork quilt was born out of necessity by early American settlers who found their lives much harsher than anticipated. Winters were colder; supplies ran short. As their Old World quilts wore out, new materials weren’t available for replacements. So the resourceful pioneer women came up with a solution. All clothing and household linens were carefully patched as they showed signs of wear, but once an item was beyond repair, the still good sections of fabric were cut up into small scraps. These scraps were pieced together to form new quilts that were far more utilitarian than pretty.
However, as the early pioneers began to prosper, women had the means to purchase new fabric and the time to indulge in more creative outlets. The true patchwork quilt made way for its more time-consuming and intricate appliquéd cousin. At the same time, the new middle class was emerging in Great Britain, and by the 1800’s appliquéd quilts had become quite popular in both England and America. By the Victorian era, friendship quilts, freedom quilts, autograph quilts, and friendship medleys were frequently made to commemorate events such as engagements, marriages, and births, and to recognize important friendships.
In America friendship medleys served as celebrations for wedding engagements. The bride-to-be’s mother would invite her daughter’s friends to a party where all would appliqué blocks. Each block was embroidered with the stitcher’s name or initials. All work had to be completed by sunset when the young men would arrive for a celebratory supper and dance. Later, the bride-to-be would host a second quilting bee where the appliquéd blocks were pieced together and quilted.
Freedom quilts were presented to sons on their twenty-first birthday when the son’s labor no longer belonged to his parents and he was free to set off on his own. Young ladies of the community would contribute appliquéd blocks for the quilt.
Appliquéd quilts were often used to create family records, with the quilts being added to over the years as the family grew. Each block was signed and dated, chronicling major events in the family’s life. The center of the quilt was often a large block, depicting the family home in great detail.
Friendship and autograph quilts became popular in the nineteenth century. They were often created for women leaving their homes and communities to settle elsewhere, whether the American west or one of Great Britain’s various colonial holdings. Friendship quilts were often organized by the recipient who would ask her friends to each make a block, often from the cloth of dresses that held special memories for the stitcher and recipient alike. The recipient would usually piece the blocks herself, then invite her friends over for a quilting bee.
Unlike functional quilts which were created for warmth, friendship and autograph quilts were not used on a daily basis but kept as cherished heirlooms, carefully stored and displayed only on special occasions. For this reason, many have survived, passed down through generations, and can now be found in museums throughout America and Great Britain.
Along with quilts, I think people can be divided into the utilitarian patchwork and the fancy appliqué. Anastasia Pollack, crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth, is the protagonist of my newly released series, the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, and is an appliqué forced by circumstances to become a patchwork. In Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun (available now), Anastasia’s husband permanently cashes in his chips at a Vegas casino, and her comfortable middle-class life craps out. She’s left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her dead husband’s loan shark who’s demanding fifty thousand dollars. Bad enough, right? Except it gets worse. When Anastasia discovers a dead body glued to her office chair, she becomes the prime murder suspect. You can read the first chapter of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun at www.loiswinston.com and you can visit Anastasia at her Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog at www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.
I want to thank the Dames of Dialogue for hosting me today. I hope you all enjoyed learning a bit about the history of appliqué. I’d also like to mention that I’m doing a blog tour this month in celebration of the release of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun. You can find the schedule on my website and at Anastasia’s blog. Everyone who posts a comment to any of the blogs over the course of the month will be entered into a drawing to receive one of 5 copies of Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun I’ll be giving away. (If your email isn’t included in your comment, please email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know you’ve entered so I have a way of getting in touch with the winners.) In addition, I’ll also be giving away an assortment of crafts books on various blogs, so look for those if you’re interested.