HNW - Re: Quilts and Coverlets

Sarah Randles s-randles at
Thu Apr 30 19:17:09 PDT 1998

Irene asked:

> For quite some time I have been meaning to
>ask about coverlets and quilts. Blankets are pretty obvious, just woven
>fabric, but when and where do we KNOW that coverlets with embroidery,
>applique or other piecing techniques arose?

My previous comments about the Sicilian quilt (also known as the
Guicciardini quilt after the family who owned it) in the V&A is quite
possibly misleading.  Yes, it and its 'pair' in the Bargello Museum in
Florence, known as the Coperta (or cover) Siciliana *are* 'quilts, but only
in the sense that they are quilted.  (The main lines of their designs are
produced in trapunto quilting, with small stitches through all the layers
to fill in various of the design elements.)  However, despite the
assumptions of many of those writing about them (including Roger Loomis,
the guru of Arthurian iconography), there is not one shred of evidence that
they were designed to be used on a bed or beds.  This appears to be a
backwards assumption based on the fact that the most common use for
quilting in modern times is for bed coverings.

There is little evidence for decorative quilting before the 18th century.
The pieces I have mentioned and a quilted jacket described but not pictured
by Avril Colby in her book _Quilting_ , and another quilt described by
Loomis, almost certainly closely related to the Guicciardini quilts, are
all that I know of.  There is, of course, a great deal of evidence for
primarily functional quilting in the case of arming jacks and the like, and
this may also have decorative qualities in its use of geometric patterns.
However, I know of no other representational pieces - if anyone does know
of any, I'd really be pleased to find out about them.

On the subject of other embroidered bed linen, it is necessary to be
careful.  A great many pieces that you will find in museums and books have
been assumed to be bed covers without any real evidence for such an
assumption.  The field of embroidery research is one which has been
traditionally undertaken by enthusiasts rather than scholars, and
consequently it is necessary to approach much of what is said with a degree
of scepticism.  There is certainly a great deal of embroidered bed linen
extant from the 16th and 17th centuries, but much of what I have seen is
actually bed hangings rather than bed covers.


Sarah Randles                                    email: s-randles at
School of English                              phone: 02 6268 8842
University College ADFA                 fax:   02 6268 8899
Canberra ACT 2601
Web Page:


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