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Chintz Appliqué Border

British, 1842

Patchwork appliqué, a technique often born of necessity and frugality, has long been a practical medium for personal artistic expression within the domestic realm. Less time consuming than embroidery, patchwork was also economical in the use of fabric scraps left over from making clothing, or salvaged cuttings from worn out garments and household furnishings. Originally part of a larger coverlet dated 1842, this engaging appliqué border serves not only as a document of creative amateur needlework, but also of experimentation within British chintz production.

Most conventional patchwork textiles are arranged with hexagonal, square or other repeating geometric shapes that connect like puzzle pieces; pictorial patchworks are less common, and were usually made with figural motifs cut from patterned fabrics. Displaying a noteworthy level of individuality, the maker of this appliqué border was not constrained by the exacting process of aligning the interlocking fabric components, nor by preexisting figural imagery. Instead, this fanciful panel is decorated with an array of imaginative forms of original inspiration, placed at the embroiderer’s whim: diminutive card suits, half-moons and other quirky motifs are interspersed among spoked wheels, windmills, animals, gingerbread-like figures, and outsize maple leaves. Lively sawtooth borders finish the composition.

The charm of this patchwork is not only in the shapes of the appliqués, but also in the variety of fabrics used. Novelty and eclecticism were hallmarks of the British chintz industry in the nineteenth century; industrial innovations, especially significant advances made in roller-printing techniques, allowed for increasing consumer demands to be met as rapidly as possible. Prior to the invention of synthetic colorants, dye technology was steadily improving and a whole new spectrum of colors—from chrome yellow to lapis blue—was used to make textiles like those represented on this border. Calicoes and madder-dyed prints, staples of women’s everyday wear in the nineteenth century, were sensible choices because of their ability to camouflage stains and appear here with frequency; other types, such as marbled, ombré striped, glazed floral, and paisley shawl-inspired fabrics, were also transformed into appliqués for this embroidery.

A mid-nineteenth-century coverlet with similar applied patchwork motifs is found in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection (T.86-1957).

19” H x 114” W

Chintz Appliqué Border - detail
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