Wholecloth history

November 11, 2014

APQS, wholecloth quilts, modern wholecloth quilt, calmanco

When you read through a quilt show catalog, you’ll probably see a category devoted to “wholecloth quilts”. Interestingly, modern interpretations of those words has precipitated the need to clearly define just exactly what show executives consider to be “wholecloth.” If you are entering a contest, read the instructions carefully to make sure your quilt still fits the explanation!

The purest definition of a wholecloth quilt is a quilt made of a single length of extra-wide fabric. The quilting stitches themselves form the design of the quilt. Early wholecloth quilts were called “linsey-woolsey”. This name was coined from the village of Lindsay in Suffolk, England, where fabric consisting of linen warp threads and wool weft threads was first made. Even this fabric was rather rough and coarse, colonists favored it due to its warmth and strength. Early Amish quilts were wholecloth, and their designs became very luminous and striking against the light backgrounds. Another popular fabric for wholecloth quilts was “calmanco”, an imported fine worsted fabric that was sometimes glazed.

As better fabrics became more readily available, wealthy women had both the money and the time to devote to their own pleasures and needlework skills. Quilts made from white cotton fabric instead of the more ecru-colored linsey-wooley gained the moniker of “white work quilts” or “white on white” quilts. These became the canvas for needlework artisans who created elegant quilts that sometimes took years to complete.

Quilting lore holds that a well-prepared young lady created 12 quilt tops for her trousseau. The 13th quilt was to be designed by the bride but quilted by her friends and family – often a white on white quilt. However, family and friends were careful not to quilt too many hearts into the design, lest it bring bad luck and end up in a broken romance!

For more information about the wholecloth in the picture, please visit the APQS Forum.