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Quilting techniques for clothing in the 18th Century

Before I introduce my second quilted infant cap to you, I thought it might be fun to use some of the items I have sold in the past, to give you a brief outline of the types of quilting used for clothing in the 18th Century. Some are quite confusing!

If you want to have a most interesting, thorough explanation, I highly recommend '18th Century Embroidery Techniques' by Gail Marsh. [see Links & Research for full reference]. I have learnt so much from this book!

The delicious jacket for a small child above, in the very popular Georgian yellow, is constructed with Wadded Quilting.

Here are a few more examples of wadded quilting:

This gorgeous provincial quilted petticoat of printed cotton, wadding [usually wool fibres] and linen would have been quite practical to wear, using sturdy fabrics, whilst providing warmth.

So sweet Georgian baby shoes, quilted all over in blue silk for a wealthy infant! Soft against the feet, whilst keeping them warm in draughty bedrooms.

Blue silk was often used for quilted petticoats, worn under an open robe so that the decorative front could be seen, but still providing warmth and comfort.

This stunning full length robe for a newborn was probably used for a christening, over the top of the gown. Exceptionally well quilted, but just the same technique as all the others shown above.

Wadded Quilting, then, was often used throughout the Century because of it's function of keeping the wearer warm from cradle to grave. But depending on the fabric used, it could be very practical, or the height of luxury.

Wadded quilting could be made by two methods; either in a professional workshop on a large floor standing frame, after which people could buy the quilted fabric all ready to make their garment. Or, it could be made on a small frame as a home pastime.

Stuffed Quilting. [Trapunto Quilting]

Trapunto quilting is extremely popular with collectors, but is often mistaken for corded quilting [see below], which was actually more difficult to work.

In Trapunto, the garment will be just two layers deep. with embroidered motifs sewn through both thicknesses together. So, it was rarely used for warmth. It was generally constructed for practical purposes in linen, because the finished article was then washable and strong. The quilting also provided a beautifully decorative finish. This finish was enhanced with the used of wool fibres to make some of the motifs stand proud of the surface. Take a look at my recently sold 'pears' cap in the light:

Not a perfect example, because I think this is all cord quilted, but if you see the filled in segments of the pear, this is a typical placing for stuffed quilting; a block of a motif that you want to stand up away from the base fabric. The 'stuffing' was achieved by cutting a small hole in the midst of the segment from the loosely woven linen lining fabric, pushing the wadding into the hole created, then closing the hole again with a stitch or two. Minute work!

I sold this cap years ago so cannot quite remember, but the really quite bulky quilting lines do look more like Trapunto to me. One can only really know by examining the inside, where one can see the stitches where tiny holes have been closed.

Cord Quilting [or Italian Quilting]

Cord quilting was the most difficult of all to achieve, according to Marsh. This is because the needlewoman had to make tiny, tiny back-stitched parallel lines to form the lovely motifs decorating the fabric. Again, just two layers of fabric were used, often fine linen uppers with a looser woven linen underneath. Length of yarn were then pushed through the double lines to make the motif stand out! Marsh tells us that if the maker got it wrong, the fabric would either pucker if too narrow for the yarn or even worse, appear flat and 'empty' if the lines were too wide for the yarn. I would never have the patience!

The image above is looking through the light at my latest quilted cap for sale. The very pretty florals are perfect for cord quilting because there are lots of outline motifs in the work. Cords make these outlines stand out as decoration.

Now, this is the inside of the cap, and we can see the ends of the cords as they enter and leave the work. Just minute ends, all extremely neat and tidy.

A close up of the exterior shows the oh so tiny backstitch that the cords run through to perfection, but also shows slightly fuller leaves which might have been Trapunto quilted, because they require a deeper filling.

Cord quilting [Italian] and Stuffed Quilting [Trapunto] were often used together in the same design for this very reason. Cord quilting went out of fashion around the mid 18th Century, so you know you have an early piece if you see cord quilting!

Marseilles Quilting.

Marseilles quilting of the 18th Century shares a name with a 19th Century machine method of making bedcovers and similar. The 19th Century machine made covers are still popular, and mimic the 18th Century originals, but there the likeness ends! 18th Century quilting is always hand made of course, and skilled work.

Marseilles quilting of the 18th Century simply means that there is additional decorative stitching AS WELL AS the cord quilted method. Here, my latest cap shows Marseilles [I think!]

So, my flower cap has not only cord quilting as explained above, but if you look closely, the linen face is also covered with a running stitch pattern all over the surface. These ladies must have had nothing to do all day!!!!! So there we have Marseilles quilting of the 18th Century.

Note also the tiny holes created as flower centres, and edged in buttonhole stitch to finish. Even the smallest detail was thought through. Extraordinary.

Marsh shows us a baby cap with very similar surface work on page 105/2006. It dates to 1700-1750 and is exactly the same shape as mine.

So, stuffed, cord and marseilles quilting were most popular for summer clothing, very hard wearing and beautiful as well.

You might think we have explored all quilting methods of the 18th Century but there is one, very rare type left. I have examined it, and will never forget it. Outstanding. It's called Flat Quilting.

Flat Quilting

We might wonder why on earth people made flat quilted garments. Made of just two layers, usually linen but not always, it provided very little extra warmth to the wearer. But we must remember that in the 18th Century there was always a good reason! Flat Quilting gave the fabric the most superb drape. I know, because I have examined it on more than one occasion. It is usually utterly magnificent!

In my experience, most flat quilted garments were for summer wear and daywear. The country Gent. The provincial Lady. Truly, this was not a 'second best' technique though!

In the late 17th and early 18th Century, flat quilting often involved a surface embroidery technique known as 'Vermicular' embroidery. Very often using the popular yellow silk thread on linen, it was rather odd - continuous wavy or lozenge shaped meanderings as shown below:

You may wonder at my common sense, but when I found this length of Vermicular linen with the yellow silk thread, I thought that all of my Christmas's had come at once! So rare!

Marsh shows a flat quilted stomacher of the early 18th Century on page 109/2006, with Vermicular work, over-embroidered with silk thread florals. Gorgeous!

Not all flat quilting used vermicular work however. I have examined two most magnificent summer waistcoats for gentlemen, with the most spectacular flat quilting applied all over.

I have lost the photo's of my first, but here are a few shots of the second:

Simply SMOTHERED in flat quilting! WOW! Very rare indeed.

Do take a look at my second 18th Century baby cap in the shop soon. A mixture of techniques and delightful too!

Thank you so much for sharing my trip down Memory Lane. I never forget my textiles, even if sold years ago.

All garments shown in this article have been examined and sold at Poppies Cottage in the last few years.

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