Austen Authors May 25, 2020: Quilts in Jane Austen’s Time

I got behind in sharing my Austen Authors posts on my blog. The rest of this month’s Monday posts will be dedicated to catching up! 😀


Last month, my post here at Austen Authors contained an excerpt from my newest release, Darcy’s Uneasy Betrothal, and an example of what a “purple post” is like on my personal blog. In that example, I looked at purple quilts. One of the comments on that post got me thinking about quilts in the Regency period, so for this month, that’s what I’m looking at.

The first article I came across as I researched was this one on the Regency Redingote site. I question much of the information, in part because of the superior attitude of the author and in part because of the evidence I have found elsewhere. However, there was some useful information.

The Tristan Quilt from Sicily. Click to view on Victoria and Albert Museum site.

One of the helpful bits in the article was the reminder that “quilts” were called counterpanes. I knew this fact, but it had completely slipped my mind. I’ve found it easier to call bedcoverings quilts as I type, and then couldn’t remember what term I ought to be using. LOL Another of the helpful things was an explanation, backed up by this article from the Victoria and Albert Museum, of what, exactly, quilting is.

In the United States, the common assumption when one mentions quilts (at least in my experience) has been patchwork quilts. They are pieces of material, sewn together into a large piece, then layered on top of batting and another, single piece of cloth and stitched together. Then, the layers are “quilted” together in scores of spots so nothing shifts. The result is a gorgeous and sturdy blanket.

What quilting originally referred to is similar to this. A quilt centuries ago in England and Europe was two pieces of material with batting between, quilted into a pattern. The stitches, as in a patchwork quilt, are sewn together through all layers and all over the blanket, but in the case of a non-patchwork quilt, there is a pattern of stitches. A stitcher might create an entire sampler on a bed-sized blanket.

A quilt from India. Click to view at Victoria and Albert Museum site.

This same process was also used for waistcoats and other clothing items.

One of the claims in the Regency Redingote article that I dispute is that no one made patchwork quilts. (The official term for patchwork seems to be piecework, by the way.) The claim makes no sense, because the poor and those among the gentry who were in dun territory would not have been able to afford to just go buy new material whenever they needed a new counterpane. They would have repurposed the material from old shirts, pants, and dresses, not only into new shirts, pants, and dresses, but also other things … like counterpanes and rugs.

This article says quilting has been around since ancient Egyptian times. In the time of the Crusades, knights wore quilted garments under their armor. The Puritans came to America from England and guess what? They quilted!  I don’t mean the big honking one-piece things, either. I mean they made patchwork quilts.

Jane Austen’s quilt. Click to view at Jane Austen Centre site.

Jane Austen and her sister and mother made just such a quilt. Some of the fabric used was new and some may have been from old clothes. The Jane Austen Centre says the material is chintz, which is a cotton fabric with a flower print. If Jane Austen made one, others were also making them.

I’m not saying the members of the beau monde were making quilts, even patchwork ones, but I refuse to count it out. They weren’t all exact replicas of each other, and there have always been people who do things in the privacy of their homes that would be frowned on by their peers. However, many of the ladies of the gentry probably were quilting in some manner.

Do you quilt? I never have, but I confess I’m fascinated with the craft. I’d love to hear your stories, if you are a quilter. What patterns have you used, if any? Do you think you’d like to take on one of those whole-blanket projects like I have shared above?


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