- - - - - - - - - Spring 2017 - - - - - - - - - -
As signs of spring go, there is perhaps nothing more readily identifiable with the season of renewal as flowers. But the symbolism of flowers reaches far beyond the springtime. Consider their various emblematic expressions in Western culture—red roses to represent love and passion; poppies, solace in a time of death; and daisies are often used to symbolize innocence.
Flowers have also inspired the work of famous (and not-so-famous) writers, artists, and designers throughout history. Their beauty and popularity has secured them a spot—if not the top spot—among the most ubiquitous and universally adored design motifs.
So, it’s of little surprise that flowers have also been a source of inspiration, and one of the most beloved fabric motifs, for quiltmakers throughout the history of the art form.
The origin of floral fabrics can be traced back to Asia, where flowers were among the most common motifs in early Japanese textiles (in particular, kimono fabrics) and in Chinese brocades and embroideries. But the fabric that is most often attributed with introducing and inspiring floral fabric designs in Europe is Indian chintz, which features ornate and richly hued designs of flora and fauna.
Chintz, imported to the West by Dutch and British merchants, became so popular among Europeans, its import was eventually outlawed in France and England, where it posed a threat to textile mills who were unable to replicate it. It made its return, however, in the mid-18th century when British manufacturers were able to develop a production process and print chintz fabrics at a lower cost. Following the Industrial Revolution, and with the growth of textile production, floral fabrics became even more widespread and more accessible to consumers.
Chintz textiles were also largely responsible for the development of the broderie perse technique of appliqué, in which printed motifs—often times, florals—are cut out and invisibly appliquéd onto fabric. At that time, broderie perse was predominantly used on bed coverings—some quilted and others coverlets—for special occasions, and limited to the wealthy, who had the time and financial means to create them. It is largely because of this that there are still some rare examples in existence today.
Broderie perse is present in many of the earliest examples of American quilts as well (in particular, Medallion-style quilts). Included in our own Quilt Festival collection is a wonderful example of the technique—a broderie perse quilt, created around 1835 in Ohio, featuring English chintz cutouts sewn onto a foundation, and then heavily hand quilted.
Over time, broderie perse was replaced with more conventional appliqué techniques. And floral appliqué is among the earliest and most recognizable quilt forms in the history of the art form.
Some of the earliest floral-themed works in our own collection include
the appliquéd strippy quilt, Bars & Roses (c. 1845, Ohio); the red and green Oval Wreath with Flowers & Buds (c. 1860, from a Southern state), which features an unusual, wide double-vine border enclosing the central blocks of a classic open-wreath appliqué design; and Cherry Wreath (c. 1860, location unknown), a formal design of 16 elaborate wreaths centered by floral motifs.
There are also in our collection a number of examples, and variations, on the ever-popular Rose of Sharon pattern. Originally popular in the 19th century, the Rose of Sharon regained popularity in the U.S. in the 1920s and ‘30s, and remains a well-known-and-loved quilt pattern today.
In terms of piecing, the Grandmother’s Flower Garden was one of the most common quilt types created during the 1920s, and we still see shining examples of this long-beloved pattern today.
And there are no shortage of quilt blocks and embroidery designs—both old and new—that feature the flower as their source of inspiration. But in the present day, there are likely just as many art quilts that include flowers as the object of their design focus. And the great advantage to a design motif as ubiquitous as the flower is that it allows for a nearly limitless array of interpretations.
One of the longest-running and most popular exhibits at our shows is “In Full Bloom.” Open to quilters working in any style and using any techniques, the annual exhibit features a variety of quilts with one common denominator—flowers.
Examples from the most recent edition include:
Spring Flowers by Mary Alyce Bordelon, which is machine pieced, hand appliquéd, and hand quilted. Of it, the artist says her design inspiration was the floral blocks in Sheila Wintle’s pattern, “The Flowers of Summer.”
Spring Flowers by Mary Alyce Bordelon
For the Ladies by Michele O’Neil Kincaid, which is machine pieced, appliquéd, and quilted. Kincaid was inspired by a photo taken in Ossipee, New Hampshire “depicting a cluster of the ethereal, elusive wild orchid.”
For the Ladies by Michele O’Neil Kincaid
Gladiolus and More by Marianne R. Williamson, which is painted, machine appliquéd and quilted. Of her original design, Williamson says, “Summer heat and a slow breeze make the flowers bend and sway. It is the height of the summer season, and the garden is in full bloom.”
Gladiolus and More by Marianne R. Williamson
My Happy Quilt by Barbara Marcone, and quilted by Galyna Sokolova-Miller, which is hand-pieced and appliquéd, and machine pieced. Marcone took inspiration from “The Blessings” pattern by Robyn Falloon, which she saw as a wonderful way to use many fabrics from her stash. Each block includes a blue flower center and green leaves, and around each blooms a “ring of petals.”
My Happy Quilt by Barbara Marcone
It All Starts in the Water: The Five Elements in Flowers by Anne Smyers, which is painted, machine appliquéd and quilted. Smyers’ unique quilt was inspired by the Five Element theory of classical Chinese medicine, and depicts the elements in flowers: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal.
It All Starts in the Water: The Five Elements
in Flowers by Anne Smyers
A Look at Floral Quilts
1. Broderie Perse, c. 1835, Ohio. From the Quilt Festival Collection.
2. Bars & Roses, c. 1845, Ohio. From the Quilt Festival Collection.
3. Oval Wreath with Flowers & Buds, c. 1860, from a Southern state. From the Quilt Festival Collection.
4. Cherry Wreath, c. 1860. From the Quilt Festival Collection.
5. Rose of Sharon with Pomegranates, c. 1890. From the Quilt Festival Collection.