A patchwork is any textile work made entirely of individual ‘patches’ that are sewn together in a formal pattern ( as opposed to a collage ). The form of the finished piece can be extremely simple but is always pre-planned, using the patterns and shapes of the ‘patches’ to create a specific design, which is then carried out in intricate detail. In the past patchworked bed quilts were part of every home, made in the winter evenings, perhaps using new materials but more often using partially worn out fabrics and offcuts. Such was the extent of the work that it has often inspired communities and great competitiveness.
The long tradition of patchworking takes the simple idea of recycling parts of worn clothing or bedding to create a new work. There are countless names for formal patchwork shapes and styles, each with their own history and particular technique, such as cathedral window, puffball, log cabin etcetera. These may have a fairly rigid form that follows an overall template for the way they are put together; some makers might follow one of such tried-and-tested formulas, while others draw upon their own creativity and experience. Patchwork aficionados can be found in clubs, competitions, exhibiting in galleries and at exhibitions.
For many, patch working is a textile art form with a serious business potential; for others, making a solitary patchwork quilt is a labour of love, a lifetime’s ambition–and an ambition that may well take a lifetime.
Some designs belong to particular communities and indeed their work is instantly recognisable by its particular use of colours, technique or form.
Closed communities such as the Amish, and Mennonites, and the former Shakers have produced greatly admired, highly collectable quilts, that are now mostly exhibited in museums. Thee clearly confirm their mission statements of ‘hands for work and hearts for God’ and to ‘make as if I were to live for ever and to live as if I might die today ‘
As implied in its name, this patchwork technique uses random pieces. It is essentially a crossover between patchwork and applique, and there are many ways to make it. The most usual is to position pieces of random sizes on a backing cloth and stitch these into place with a variety of decorative stitches and threads, often short lengths and left overs, in patterns that cover or enclose the raw edges.
See also Gees Bend quilts.