Applique, an Old Craft used in Patchwork and Quilting
Story by Penny Swift
The word appliqué comes from the French word that means “work applied or laid on another material”. But today is in a term that is well-entrenched in the English language.
Applique was originally a handcraft, used long before sewing machines had even been thought of.
One of the earliest examples of this craft can be seen in Cairo, in the Boulak Museum. Made by the ancient Egyptians from the skin of a small antelope (a gazelle), the work is in the form of a funeral canopy that is appliquéd with serpent symbols and blossoms that were dyed in a variety of colours, including pink, yellow and blue.
Appliqué was very common in Europe many centuries ago. Then, from the 15th century it was used to decorate household linen, for instance bed curtains.
This absorbing craft became popular in America from the early 1800s, and was frequently used for quilting, and to make fabric pictures that recorded historically important events. Wedding quilts were part of American culture in those days, with different people contributing their own quilt block that was added to the wedding gift.
Appliquéd quilts were also very popular in Asia and South America during the 19th century, where fabric was traded between the continents.
This is a widely appreciated craft and it has been used to decorate clothing for centuries. For instance:
- The Kuna Indians from the San Blas Island off the Panama Coast used reverse appliqué techniques to make traditional molas (blouses) – which were appliquéd with shapes of brightly coloured plants, animals and people.
- The Hmong from Asia, who also traditionally used reverse appliqué to embellish clothing, bed covers, hats and other items. Their work incorporated embroidery. Today their pa ndau work (flower cloth appliqué) can be found at local craft markets.
While traditional designs are still favoured – especially for quilt designs – many contemporary textile artists use sewing machines to join the bits and pieces they need for their appliqué work. Many also take the craft to another level, for instance by incorporating machine embroidery to embellish their designs.
If you are stuck for appliqué ideas, the good news is that there are hundreds – if not thousands – of books about appliqué that explain the basic techniques and also supply a multitude of appliqué block designs.
Quick and Easy Appliqué
Jenny shows you a quick and easy way to quilt and applique.