"White quilts" are splendidly rich in historical value!
But first, what is a white quilt? It is just what its name indicates: A white quilt. A quilt that is void of any color. It is often interchangeably referred to as a "whole cloth quilt", but sometimes when this term is applied, it has the potential to be misleading, because it can include color. The characteristic that both terms have in common is that the outer layer is a white, whole (not patched) cloth.
During the reign of Queen Anne (Queen of England/Great Britain, lifespan 1665-1714), there were many utterly exquisite white quilts made. With absolutely no color to help enhance the beauty of the quilts, it was essential that the craftsmanship be superb. These quilts were made with the greatest of care, with beautiful quilting designs sewn with the finest of stitches. Much attention was given to detail and planning was vital to this type of quilt.
There were basically two types of white quilts: One made for warmth and used as a quilt, the other not made for warmth, probably used as curtains, tablecloths, etc. There were also three methods used for making white quilts: 1) For a bed (warmth), 2) Stuffing from the backing side of the quilt (not for warmth), and 3) Stuffing from the wrong side of the top layer of the quilt (also not used for warmth).
1) If a white quilt was made as a quilt for a bed, it was created with at least three layers of thickness were sewn together with what was referred to as the "ordinary quilting stitch". The name of the stitch, however, does not in any way indicate that the stitch was "ordinary"! Quite the contrary, this stitch was "ordinary" because it was a plain, but very fine running stitch.
2) Another method was to quilt two layers (not used for warmth) with either a back stitch, a chain stitch, or a plain running stitch. Or maybe any combination of these stitches. For this quilt, the outer layer was made from the finest of all linen, and the backing was a loosely woven material (an explanation of the "why" follows!). The quilting designs for this type of quilt were made up of scrolls, feathers, small flowers, small leaves, and other patterns that allowed the quilter to "stuff" either cording or some type of padding directly beneath the linen. The process was simple, yet also complex. First, the layers were put in place and then temporarily sewn (basted) together. Second, the design/pattern(s) were all quilted with precision, the quilter being constantly aware that this quilt had no color, and that the work put into it would be highly visible. At this point, one would think it was almost complete, but there is yet another technique used to enhance the beauty of the quilt. This is where the loosely woven backing was utilized! Once quilted, the quilt was turned over to the backing and the threads of each quilted area were gently separated (never cut!) from one another in quilted areas. Still working from the back, the quilter then stuffed each detail of the pattern/design with bits of cotton or other fabrics, or even narrow cording (which was run through with a fine bodkin). Once all of the "stuffing" was complete, the threads that had been separated were carefully pushed back together again. Today, this technique is referred to as "trapunto".
3) Based on the method discussed in the paragraph above, an improvement emerged with regard to stuffing with cording. Quilters are intelligent people (as you know!) and it did not take long for them to figure out that the cording could be added in a much easier and faster way. Before the layers were basted together, the design/pattern was traced onto the wrong side of the outer linen fabric. The cording was then attached from the wrong side of the linen with the same stitch that is used in shadow embroidery, the "cat stitch" or "brier stitch". Then the process continued as the quilter put the layers together (forming a quilt "sandwich") and finished using the second method above.
The last two methods were used for tablecloths, window curtains, four-poster bed curtains, home decor, etc.
Many white quilts from the Queen Anne era (and others) can be found in museums today. These quilts are still quite popular and thought to be for a more-experienced quilter. These antique quilts are collectible and many online Web sites offer them for sale.
Hopefully, this article has been interesting and informative. Comments are definitely appreciated!
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