Papercutting is an art that probably began in China, the birthplace of paper. It has been adopted by many cultures over the centuries, and today even children learn to fold-and-cut paper snowflakes to adorn their wintertime classrooms. Several cultures have also translated papercutting into fabric cutting for applique quilts.
German immigrants to the United States adapted their art of scherenschnitte ("scissor cuts") to applique when they learned quiltmaking from their English neighbors. American missionaries may have introduced scherenschnitte style quilts to the indigenous Hawaiians in the nineteenth century, who then adapted it to their quilted textile tradition called kappa moe. Hawaiian quilts typically are covered with one cut-out design compared to the repeated identical designs of German quilts. In the quilted ralli of the Sindh region of southeastern Pakistan and northwest India, the makers may include several different but related fold-and-cut designs in their applique.
The "tree of life" represents immortality, protections and healing in cultures around the world. Among others, it appears in ancient Indian, Chinese, Hebrew, Christian and Norse mythologies, writings and iconography. The ancient symbol became high fashion in the seventeenth century when European traders began importing luxury textiles directly from the Orient. Indian printed cotton tree of life panels, called palampores, adapted for the western market, appeared in American and European quilts from the late 1700s to the early 1800s.
Three identical panels of Indian palampore were used in the quilt brought to the United States in 1749 by John Fisher, a German immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania. This quilt and similar imported textiles may have inspired the 1850 applique quilt from Pennsylvania. Vibrant red and green was a favorite color scheme of Pennsylvania German quilts of the mid-nineteenth century. M. Joan Lintault, a contemporary artist, uses the ancient Hebrew account of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in her quilt Uncoiling Snakes. The tree represents good while the snakes represent evil.