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The Art of Quilting
Quilting is an ancient craft, which was born of necessity and continues into the modern age as a popular hobby. The secret of its survival lies in part in the beauty of the quilts themselves, but also in people's fascination with the process.
What is a Quilt?
At first thought a quilt is a colorful homemade bedspread. However, as a verb, the word means to sew layers of cloth together. Anything made in this way is referred to as quilted, such as the quilted lining of a coat. Quilting then refers both to the entire process of making a quilt but also to that one defining step in the process.
The Components of a Quilt
Although there are exceptions, the basic quilt consists of three layers. The backing, or bottom layer is generally made of a plain fabric and is sometimes called a lining. The term backing is less confusing because no other part of a quilt or quilted project is likely to be referred to as such, while lining might refer to other things.
The middle layer is the batting. This gives the quilt its insulation properties. The thickness of the batting combined with the style of stitching determines how heavy or puffy the quilt will be. This middle layer is sometimes called the filling or padding but these terms bring to mind more old fashioned products than the commercial quilt batting used in modern quilts.
The final layer is the cover. This is the decorated layer often called a quilt top or more rarely the face. Since top might refer to the headboard end of the finished quilt and face can be confused with facing, the term cover is somewhat preferable and will be used here.
Types of Quilts
There are two primary types of quilts: the pieced and the appliqu�d. Pieced refers to a quilt cover made up of many, sometimes hundreds, of small pieces of cloth stitched together. These pieces might go together to create one large pattern such as a star on the cover. More often, the pieces are arranged in repeating geometric patterns. Sometimes these patterns are alternately turned to one side or another to create diamond or stripe effects on the overall cover.
Appliqu�d quilts are made of cutout shapes stitched onto a contrasting background. If the design consists of one large picture it is said to have an all-over pattern. Often the appliqu�d picture is repeated much like the pieced pattern and sewn onto blocks, which are then sewn together.
A comforter, or comfortable as it was called some hundred years ago, is a tied quilt, which means instead of rows of stitching joining the layers together, threads are caught through the layers at even intervals and tied in knots. It's a quilt that isn't quilted. A Plain Quilt, on the other hand, is exceedingly quilted. The cover is made from one solid colored piece, often white, and this is where it gets its name. It is then quilted all over in the most intricate of patterns, often very detailed garlands of flowers, feathered wreaths or figures of animals, people, houses or ships.
Quilts as Art
Perhaps because quilts are no longer necessities, they are being recognized more and more as works of art. Quilts are often hung on walls to show them off, but even if they are spread across a bed they are often the focal point of the entire room. Antique quilts and even finely made modern ones sell for hundreds of dollars.
A quilt's value goes beyond a monetary one. Quilts are expressions of the quilter's artistic vision, and no two will be alike. Even following the same pattern, one quilter will stray a little, modifying the pattern to suit herself. Another less adventurous quilter might follow the pattern exactly, but her tastes will be reflected in her choice of fabric and their arrangement on the finished quilt.
Feminists have suggested that if quilts had been made primarily by men instead of women they would have been considered art from the very beginning.