Patchwork appliqué, a technique often born
of necessity and frugality, has long been a practical medium for
personal artistic expression within the domestic realm. Less time
consuming than embroidery, patchwork was also economical in the
use of fabric scraps left over from making clothing, or salvaged
cuttings from worn out garments and household furnishings. Originally
part of a larger coverlet dated 1842, this engaging appliqué border
serves not only as a document of creative amateur needlework, but
also of experimentation within British chintz production.
Most conventional patchwork textiles are arranged
with hexagonal, square or other repeating geometric shapes that
connect like puzzle pieces; pictorial patchworks are less common,
and were usually made with figural motifs cut from patterned fabrics.
Displaying a noteworthy level of individuality, the maker of this
was not constrained by the exacting process of aligning the interlocking
fabric components, nor by preexisting figural imagery. Instead,
this fanciful panel is decorated with an array of imaginative forms
of original inspiration, placed at the embroiderer’s whim:
diminutive card suits, half-moons and other quirky motifs are interspersed
among spoked wheels, windmills, animals, gingerbread-like figures,
and outsize maple leaves. Lively sawtooth borders finish the composition.
The charm of this patchwork is not only in the shapes of the appliqués,
but also in the variety of fabrics used. Novelty and eclecticism
were hallmarks of the British chintz industry in the nineteenth
century, which is evident in the array of cottons—including
marbled, ombré striped,
glazed floral, paisley, and calico designs—incorporated
into this unique embroidery.
A mid-nineteenth-century coverlet with similar applied patchwork
motifs is found in the Victoria
and Albert Museum collection (T.86-1957).