Marseilles has been a major Mediterranean port since its founding in 600 B.C.E., universally recognized as a major trading post for textiles, especially cotton and silk. From the Middle Ages Marseilles manufacturers had imitated successful textile imports in order to realize greater commercial gain. Of great interest to us, during the 17th century Marseilles entrepreneurs developed a refined interpretation of quilted and corded needlework of great appeal to European markets.
By 1688, forty to fifty thousand pieces of toiles piquées de Marseille were exported to ports in England, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden. They were camisoles, petticoats, bedcovers, small towels and other accessories.
One old letter gives an idea of the appeal of this early white corded work. In 1609 Henry IV’s court poet wrote to a friend in Provence to seek assistance for a fashion-conscious Parisienne, “Please send me two camisoles of white toiles piquées…they must be the prettiest and whitest, and the most beautiful work there is.”
Click images below to view larger and read more information about some of the quilts included in the exhibit.