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The White Bridal Quilt

by Jean Noon,

The wedding quilt, all white, intricately stitched and corded, has a fascinating yet relatively unknown history originating in southern Europe more than 700 years ago. Evidently, the oldest "living" examples of quilting of any type are Sicilian quilts dated circa 1392, wedding gifts elaborately covered with scenes from the legend of Tristan. They were made of a double layer of heavy, pieced linen and sewn with linen thread. Designs were raised with tiny pieces of cotton padding inserted through the back of the quilt.

By the 15th century stuffed quilting was apparently being copied from the Sicilian techniques in other countries, particularly Germany and England. By the 16th century designs were raised with cord, or strips of material. The cording was done on two layers of fabric, with narrow channels sewn and then filled from the back. This technique is now known as Italian quilting, which is perhaps a misnomer, for some sources attribute it to Portuguese quilters, while others refer to it as English. Linens, wools, cottons, silk, taffeta, satin were used in European quilting by the 16th century.

In 17th century Provence thousands of women were employed in light, airy, professional needlework ateliers to stitch broderie de Marseille, corded or stuffed quilted needlework, usually called "trapunto" in America or "boutis" in France. Hundreds of hours were used to plan the desired composition, transfer the design to the fabric, stitch the narrow channels (working at eight to ten stitches per inch), and finally, draw the cording through the channels and motifs to realize the pattern. The raised designs reflect the light and provide shadow on the surface to give the quilts a stunning sculptural effect.

By the last quarter of the 17th century the all-white broderie de Marseille was in high demand. Articles were ordered by royal houses throughout Europe. Marie Antoinette's elaborate all-white quilt reportedly took 100 women eight years to make! But even the middle class had money and taste enough to acquire the fancy white work. By the end of the 1700s it was popular Provencal tradition to make, or have made, a wedding quilt to rest on top of the marriage bed; this tradition resulted in lavishly stitched confections filled with pomegranates, ripe grapes, melons -- symbols of love, femininity, fidelity, fertility, and prosperity as well as motifs of personal significance - the couple's initials or wedding date.

Of all bridal quilts, those known as white work are among the most highly prized by collectors. Introduced to America in the late 18th century, they became extremely popular before 1830, especially in the South. The central medallions of these elegant textiles were composed of stitched urns of flowers, roped swags, floral wreaths, feathered whorls and cornucopias.

Today, the all-white, corded wedding quilt is a charming way to remember your big day! It is possible to find all-white machine-made quilts or hand-made quilts of lesser intricacy than those of days past. Quilts of an intricate quality not seen for hundreds of years are available too! Captivating French- and Welsh-inspired designs as well as striking motifs incorporating Celtic knot-work and also the American Pineapple - Symbol of Abundance have been worked into quilts, shams and wall-hangings - stunning works of art to commemorate your special day!

In many cases, the bride and groom can suggest to their friends and family that they are looking for something totally different to commemorate their wedding day. Group gifts are often given to the new couple so they can grace their nuptial bed in style!

The majority of the above historical information can be found in the gorgeous book "Quilts of Provence : The Art and Craft of French Quiltmaking" by Kathryn Berenson, 1996, Henry Holt and Co, New York.


Jean Noon,


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