Saturday, September 1, 2018

English Applique #3: Unconfined Applique or Free-Form Applique

Quilt sold at Christies' Auctions

In the last post I showed four similar bedcovers with what I've been calling Unconfined Applique. I have many photos in the files of patchwork in the same style. American applique artists tend to confine their applique in a grid of blocks.

While some British quiltmakers throw in an image wherever it fits.

Similar quilt with hexagons and simple applique shapes.

When Julie Silber and I were looking at the quilt at IQSCM she said her name for the style was Free-Form Applique.

I had this photo of a quilt Julie, Linda Reuther and Pat Ferraro included in a catalog of quilts they did for the Oakland Museum in 1981.

The center says in hexagons:
Born July 19 1822 

Nocton is a town in Lincolnshire, England. Frances Asman (1822-1890) married Samuel Dalton in 1843 and they came to the U.S. in 1851, bringing this bedcover and settling in Tabor, Iowa, where they raised six children.

The central image is hard to see but there are birds and horses, and perhaps other animals scattered around the square in typical English fashion---truly Free-Form Applique. We might guess Frances made this quilt before her 1843 marriage at 21. I wouldn't be surprised to find these free-form appliques were projects begun as children. The consistent animal theme and light-heartedness in the designs seem to be aimed at a young audience.

This coverlet with bible verses is in the collection of the
Quilters Guild of Britain.

A label attached to the front  (upside down) reads
"Cam Blue Coat School 1874"
Blue Coat Schools are free schools, originally charity schools, and there is
a Blue Coat School in the town of Cam in Gloucestershire.
The school children may have done the applique on this piece.

Horses seem to be a necessity in the bestiary.
Kangaroos optional.

Blue Coat boys in Bath in the 1890s

Blue Coat girls in Nottingham

The Red Manor House coverlet, also in the Quilters Guild collection,
has free form applique in the center, a manor house with large ducks 
and small cows. The borders include many more images confined in blocks.

Detail of blocks from a quilt sold at a Copake Auction in the U.S.

Quilt documented by the New Jersey project, dated 1860
made by Margaret Howat in Galston, Scotland.

Crib quilt by Nancy Horsfall from the collection of Gawthorpe Hall in England,
dated 1834. At the top it says "Welcome Sweet Babe"

Brigitte Giblin has done a pattern for that crib quilt.

Is there a name for this style in the United Kingdom?


  1. I love the look of the strewn appliques on those quilts...very serendipitous...thanks so much for sharing all these beauties with us hugs, Julierose

  2. As far as I am aware there isn't a name for this scattered applique here in the UK. I love studying the technique on our quilts and coverlets but feel rather despairing that so few UK quilters are interested in traditonal British techniques as are you in the States or Australia, unless of course they are offered BOM designs by Australian designers. I don't know why this is, possibly because so many of our foremost British designers come from an art background and concentrate on experimental stitching technique and fabric construction? Encouraged perhaps by so many categories to enter in the Festival of Quilts? I feel rather lonely in designing and making my quilts drawing from old British traditions, not using reproduction fabrics but trying to source current British fabric that reflects the present time. Of course this is up hill work as there is an enormous demand for reproduction fabric as the nostalgia market is strong and very commercial.

  3. I find the Margaret Howat quilt very interesting. The mariage registers for Galston shows three between 1861and 1871 for a Margaret Galston clearly a popular name! Two were young women in their early 20s, one a domestic servant, the other merely documented as "Spinster"; the third a milliner in her mid thirties who marries a 50 yearly widower and master shoemaker.
    Margaret, the spinster 25 year-old, marries a farm servant from Riccarton in 186. Take your pick!

  4. After reading these posts on English appliqué I find I prefer the free form and scrappiness of them, over the rigid block form. Very spontaneous and honest. Thank you for enlightening me.

  5. Thank you for your fabulous post on free form appliqué Barbara! I’ve recently started a herringbone raw edge appliqué of the V&A Greek slave quilt and am enjoying this method so much. The stitches just seems to flow. I’m using some spray starch for the raw edges and to give the shapes some stiffness. An Avril Colby book describes making a light paste containing carpenters glue (made from rendered horses hooves and bones!!) to coat the back of fabrics to be appliqued. I did some research on carpenters glue and of course it’s no longer readily available, hence i am using spray starch. Jane and David Lury also own some stunning quilts using this method of appliqué. Hugs to you, Brigitte

  6. I love looking at these historical treasures and thinking about how they came to be. These days so many quilts are documented by photos and seen in quilt shows. I wonder how or if they might be valued in the future.