Reflections of the Exotic East | India

Printed and painted palampore, probably made in India , circa 1750-1770. Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection IQSCM 2008.040.0219.

Imported printed and painted Indian chintzes directly influenced Western quilts’ materials and design. When Europeans first encountered printed cottons from India during the early 1600s, they marveled at the bright, colorfast, washable fabrics. By 1800 cotton prints soon replaced silk and wool as the preferred material for decorative bed-coverings. Today, cotton is still the dominant fabric in quilts. 

Indian textiles influenced overall quilt design also. Palampores—printed cotton bedspreads with large central designs surrounded by border prints—are reflected in the Medallion format of many quilts made between 1800 and 1850, in both chintz appliqué and pieced quilts. 

India’s woven Kashmir shawls also proved influential. The pine-cone motif, known in the West as the paisley, made up the primary design element of the shawl. Produced by highly skilled weavers of the Kashmir region of northern India, these shawls became the height of fashion for early 1800s European women. The French Empress, Josephine, was said to have owned 400 of them. As a symbol of distant, romantic India, the paisley motif decorated a wide variety of the era’s fabrics. It remains a popular design today.

Click on the images below to see a larger view of and more information on the quilts included in this exhibition.