Petassoun (Infant lap quilt)

November, 2010

Petassoun (Infant lap quilt)

Maker unknown
Petassoun (Infant lap quilt)

Circa 1850-1890
Made on Mediterranean coast, France
Kathryn Berenson Collection of French Quilts, 2005.018.0012

When presented to society in 19th-century Provence at christening and other social occasions, an infant was accompanied by a lap quilt called a petassoun in Provencal. Often beautifully stitched, the lap piece was as practical as it was pretty. A new mother, nicely dressed for the occasion, knew better than to let her infant rest directly on her fancy clothing. Any inadvertent baby dribbles on a white cotton petassoun easily could be removed by the efficacy of Marseilles soap followed by exposure to the Provencal sun.

This petassoun holds a central medallion filled with a grid of small lozenges representing a pomegranate, to auger an abundant future for the infant. Rosemary fronds wreath the center figure and form a blossom-laden garland in the outer border, for rosemary represented both familial and courtly love in 19th-century Provencal society. Each corner blossom springs from a fleur de lys. The piece is bordered with scallops filled with rosemary and all motifs appear on a ground of diagonal line cording.

This piece came from the hands of an expert needlewoman and took hours to create; it holds the smallest scale motifs yet encountered in a petassoun from this period, worked in the running stitch at 18 stitches per inch.