The History of Patchwork and Quilting

The History of Patchwork and Quilting

0 comments Emily Hickey Mason
The History of Patchwork and Quilting

We’re huge fans of using patchwork squares in our haberdashery projects. They’re a great way to integrate diverse, unique colours and textures into your project which will bring a dimension to your work that no other fabric can quite achieve.

Quilting and patchwork are cut from the same cloth (excuse the pun!) when it comes to their history, use and popularity. We wanted to learn more about how they both came about, what they’ve been used for in the past and how they’ve come to be the techniques and fabrics we love today.


Quilting is a technique that has been used for hundreds of years for many different purposes; from clothing to pincushions. However, similarly to patchwork, quilting is most often associated with bedding! 

What is quilting?
It is a method of stitching laters of material together. Whilst this doesn’t sound hugely exciting, there are variations of quilting, such as wadding (padded quilting) amongst other differentiations. However, similarly to patchwork, quilting is most often associated with bedding!

Where did it come from?
Although it’s always hard to know for certain the exact origins of such things, the history of quilting can be traced back all the way to medieval times in Europe, India and the far East. The word itself ‘quilt’, is linked to the Latin word for cushion: ‘culcita’ and was used in England in the 13th century. 

The earliest known quilting was to make bed covers. In many medieval inventories, quilts were mentioned and passed down from generation to generations as family heirlooms! The ones that have lasted the test of times have often been demonstrations of the most superior quilting technique and some can be found in museum collections dating back to the 13th century. 


How was quilting used for clothing?
Also during the medieval period (it was seemingly quite the favoured method!), quilting was used to make light but warm clothing and padded quilting was worn under armour during war to make it more comfortable. In some cases, those who couldn’t afford metal armour would just have the quilting by itself!


How was bed quilting done?

In the past, as quilt making for beds was such an arduous job due to large surface area the quilt was required to be. This meant that people often shared the sewing, making it a somewhat social occasion. This was particularly popular in North American where the English and Dutch settlers established quilting as a popular craft. A tradition cam around whereby groups of women would create a quilt for a girl about to get married; the aim was to stitch the whole quilt in one day.



Patchwork is linked very closely to quilting but it does require a different needlework technique. This technique has its own distinct history which involves sewing together pieces of fabric to form a flat design.

What is patchwork?
Here in Britain, the most common method of patch working is called ‘piecing over paper’, which is where the pattern is drawn onto paper first before being cut. Small pieces of fabric are folded around the paper and tacked into place before the shapes are joined together from the back using small stitches aka whipstitches. 

How is patchwork different from quilting?

As we know, quilting is often associating with warmth and protection, whereas patchwork is associated more with domestic economy rather than being hugely professional - a way of using up scraps of fabrics, fixing clothes etc. 

What’s the history of patchwork?
In the past, patchwork quilts in the 19th century weren’t produced specifically for economic reasons but in fact used huge amounts of specially bought fabrics. This came from the middle-class women who were making patchwork quilts for pleasure rather than necessity (quite like what most of our patchwork squares are used for!). Similarly, a tradition came around during the second half of the 19th century where male soldiers made military quilts overseas. 

During the time from 1875-1885, patchwork was endorsed by prison reformer Elizabeth Fry who believed that it was a skill that should be taught to female inmates to provide them with employment and giving time for reflection (what we would probably refer to nowadays as arts and crafts mindfulness).

As trends often do, patchwork popularity took a dip over the 20th century but fortunately was brought back to life by the 1960s’ fashion industry! It became a look associated with hippie culture, rather than just a technique and by the end of the century, both patchwork and quilting was taken on by artists such as Tracey Emin and Michelle Walker to demonstrate notions of women’s art and work.

It’s quite amazing how such particular haberdashery techniques have been passed down through the ages and stood the test of time. Today, patchwork ad quilting is still in incredibly popular amongst not only the arts and crafts community, but in shops too. We offer a selection of gorgeous patchwork squares that you can use for quilting, making cushions, patching up clothes or whatever else you want to do with them. They’re all perfectly cut out and come in a range of different fabrics so you can choose exactly what goes into your unique project. 

Click to view our selection here.

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