qotd 4/29/11 - calling all old quilters!

kay_in_paApril 29, 2011

Hi, everyone,

I received a question today about quilt terminology. And having just about finished a book on the history of quilts, I really learned a lot about the various periods and styles of quilting.

The question I received is "What does the term piecing mean?". In today's terminology, it's basically a quilt top made of different pieces of fabric. It could be an allover pattern of a single repeating block (like postage stamp or tumbling blocks)or a block pattern that's repeated, which is what we do each month in the lotto. But basically, it's sewn together with seams, as opposed to being sewn down to a foundation or sewn on top as an applique.

The person who asked me the question had been told by an elderly gentleman that his mother "pieced/did piecing", while his wife didn't do any "piecing" but instead made quilt blocks. I'm wondering if this gent was remembering his mother doing crazy-quilt work and thought of that as piecing?

In my reading, I learned that "patchwork" actually started out as the term for what we know now as "applique", because patches of fabric were applied on top of other fabrics. But patchwork now seems to refer to pieced blocks.

Does anyone have any family generational or other historical perspectives that might add to the clarification (or confusion)? Language is so interesting and words and phrases can carry on long past their general usage in certain pockets of the country. As I told the person who asked me today, my grandmother used an expression that I recently learned referred to King Richard III of the 15th century. She had no idea what it meant (in fact she probably would never have repeated it had she known), but just used it as her family had for generations.

So, everyone, how about some discussion on old time quilting terminology?

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My opinion: In the quilt world it would be the action of putting pieces of fabric together...either by machine or hand.

If something is 'pieced' it's put together in pieces to make a whole. Again, my opinion.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 8:57AM
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I do know that in Germany, they call my quilting "patchverk" as if that's it in Deutsch. That's the one word they all understand for what I do.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 10:21AM
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Good question. I have extended family in England who visit every year and my son-in-law's mother is quite handy with a needle. I was showing her some of my quilts (and sent her back with one of them) and she said she was seriously thinking of taking up quilting..........and patchwork too. LOL.

I think this is an example of the two countries being separated by a common language. She considers quilting to be the act of padding, facing and stitching the sandwich in a pattern. She considers patchwork the piecing together of fabrics in patterns.

If you know the history of quilting it makes sense. Early quilts were often whole cloth quilts, even in this country. Needlework was a past time for 'gentle' ladies. There simply wasn't any need for women like that to gather scraps because they could afford any fine material they wished. Patchwork is what evolved from the masses who couldn't.

There are section of Great Britain where whole cloth quilts are the norm and for which they are famous, and other places in the British Isles were pieced quilts were, and they have their own reputation of pieced quilts in whatever material their particular locality produced......like wools.

The distinctions are becoming blurred with the ease of communication but at least with the gals I know they may refer to the type of quilting we are accustomed to as 'patchwork'.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 1:40PM
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Interesting question Kay!

I remember my Grandma saying that if they didn't have a piece of fabric big enough for a particular part of the block, they would "piece it". Many of the orphan blocks that I have from my Grandma are indeed "pieced" They used leftover fabric from making clothes or even old clothes that had been mended too many times to mend them again. Maybe that is why the gentleman said his Mother pieced but his wife doesn't.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2011 at 3:53PM
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Thank you Kay for posting this discussion. The gentleman who gave us the tour of the old sawmill and of the room of quilts displayed said his mother pieced, but that his wife made blocks. He treated the word "piecing" as it was something special his mother did that many don't do anymore. The gentleman was quite elderly so I am not sure if his mother is still living or not. I liked your input on this Tuppermom, what you said makes a lot of sense. Thank you all for your discussion of this, it is greatly helping my understanding of the quilting terminology.

Best to you and many thanks,

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 10:36PM
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