English patchwork, c. 1700. English patchwork, c. 1700. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, acc. no. T.615-1996.

Patchwork is a form of needlework whereby two or more pieces of cloth are sewn together to create a larger, usually flat piece, which may or may not be decorative. This technique is found throughout the world and has been used for hundreds of years. It probably originated from the need to re-use (expensive) textiles. It should not be confused with the technique of quilting, which sews together, in layers, two or more pieces of cloth.

Patchwork is often used to combine pieces of cloth in a specific order, so that a larger design is created. These designs may be based on a series of repeating patterns built up with one or more different colours, patterns and/or shapes.

There are two main techniques used for patchwork:

Crazy patchwork: which is where apparently randomly shaped and coloured pieces of cloth are sewn together. This type of patchwork was known as puzzle patchwork in late nineteenth century England. It was also often used in the Netherlands for a form of skirt called a feestrok ('festival skirt'), which were made to celebrate the liberation of the country at the end of the Second World War (1939-1945). See also American crazy patchwork

Pieced patchwork (also known as piece work): which is a technique whereby geometric shapes are cut out in a stiff card or paper and then covered in cloth. The shapes are then sewn together in a pre-defined pattern to create blocks that are sewn together to create even larger areas of patchwork. Once sewn together the stiffened shape is removed and often re-used elsewhere in the design. Pieced patchwork is well-known for the very wide range of geometric designs that can be created by changing the colours, patterns and shapes used.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, patchwork is well known and widely produced in combination with quilting to create quilts and similar objects. But this was not the only use for patchwork. It was often used, for example, to make blinds, curtains, dolls, garments, rugs, etc.

See also: inlay patchwork; stained glass patchwork.

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 9 July 2016).


Last modified on Thursday, 26 January 2017 18:22