Marseille: White Corded Quilting

Marseille: White Corded Quilting

Marseille: White Corded Quilting

Marseille: White Corded Quilting, the first major display in the world of all-white quilted and corded French needlework, explores its development in Marseilles, the fusion of technique with design imagery, and the integration of this needlework into other cultures as it was exported, adopted and re-transformed over three centuries in three continents.

In Marseilles, professional needlewomen worked graceful imagery into fine materials. The lovely garments and furnishings made by their hands seduced consumers in all of Europe.  These supple, all-white corded and quilted furnishings-from bedcovers to quilted bodices and caps-grew out of the thriving textile traded centered on France's Mediterranean port of Marseilles. During the the seventeenth century, the region's interpretation of quilted needlework became so treasured that it seduced markets throughout Europe and its far-flung colonies.

In English, the name of the Provencal port city is spelled with an s on the end–Marseilles (pronounced mar-SAY). We title this exhibition Marseille to honor those needlewomen of Provence who manifested such incredible expertise and understanding of materials. In the needlework ateliers of Marseilles, the technique of corded quilting evolved from a crude technique into the refined works of art on display here.

Broderie de Marseille is a form of three-dimensional textile sculpture using plain white cloth and white cotton cording, deftly manipulated with needle and thread to reveal patterns highlighted by the resulting play of light and shadow on the textile surface. Skillful execution of broderie de Marseille resulted in delicate, refined work that graced the homes an figures of aristocrats and launched an international passion for all-white corded needlework. The quilted works were filled with imagery expressing contemporary values, such as folk legends (Tristan), heraldic devices and royal monograms (on bedcovers), and floral wreaths an fruits symbolizing good fortune and fertility (on wedding quilts). Contemporary versions, today often referred to as "matelasse," are machine made and thus lack the intimate connections to the work represented by the confections of the original needleworkers-almost all of them presumably women.

Marseilles Harbor bustled with activity in the 18th century as this contemporary engraving shows. Ships arrived from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin, Gibraltar, Hamburg, Lisbon, London, and Stockholm carrying commodities. They left Marseilles laden with almonds, olive oil, soap, spices, wine, and textiles of all sorts. From the last decades of the 1600s ships sailed from the harbor carrying thousands of lovely quilted and corded- work furnishings and garments made in port-city ateliers. They were always known by the name of the city where they were made–piqués de Marseille

Featured Media

Featured Media
Featured Media

Techniques and Terms

Techniques and Terms
Techniques and Terms

Corded needlework had various names through the centuries. The term broderie de Marseille was not commonly used until 1770. That’s when Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin published L’art de brodeur (The Art of the Embroiderer) and described how to do it:

The needlewoman begins by drawing a pattern on a piece of fine cotton or linen. She places this fabric over a more loosely woven backing and stretches them on a frame. Using small running or back stitches, she sews along pattern lines to form narrow channels and tiny compartments. She turns the frame over and makes small holes behind each channel and compartment. Finally, she draws the cording through the channels and tucks tiny bits into the compartments. This step creates a decorative surface pattern.

In essence, broderie de Marseille is a form of three-dimensional textile sculpture. Plain white cloth and white cotton cording, deftly manipulated with needle and thread, reveal patterns through the play of light and shadow over the textile surface. Skillful execution of broderie de Marseille resulted in delicate, refined work that graced the homes and figures of aristocrats and launched a passion for all-white corded needlework

 

Meet the Guest Curator

Meet the Guest Curator
Meet the Guest Curator

This exhibit is curated by guest curator Kathryn Berenson, who is a renowned authority on French textiles, and the author of Marseille: The Cradle of White Corded Quilting and Quilts of Provence: The Art and Craft of French Quiltmaking, the definitive books on the subject. Berenson is an associate fellow at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. Her research on French textile history has been published through museums in Italy, the United Kingdom, and France as well as the United States. Berenson, a former print and broadcast journalist, lives in Paris, where she continues her study of historic textiles.

About the Collection

About the Collection
About the Collection

The IQSCM collection of fine French whitework was assembled under the guidance of the late Sara Dillow. Sara was a champion of the IQSC from its founding in 1997. She and her husband, Byron, had collected French quilts for a number of years before she became acquisitions coordinator for the IQSC in the years 2005-2007. During those two years, Sara diligently sought out French examples for the IQSC. The majority of the IQSC quilts featured in this exhibit are drawn from the Kathryn Berenson and Byron and Sara Dillow Collections, all prime representative works acquired by the IQSC thanks to Sara Dillow’s excellent judgment.

Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition
Chauffoir

Chauffoir, corded quilting
Provence, France
Late 17th century
Cotton 39.5 × 55.75 in
2008.040.0144, Byron and Sara Dillow Collection

Few 17th-century corded needlework textiles have survived; this piece is the oldest of its kind in the IQSC collection. It is a chauffoir (pronounced show- FWAR ), a standard armoire item of the period. Its name derived from the French verb “to warm,” a chauffoir would be heated and then placed wherever warmth was desired. King Louis XIV’s valets laid heated chauffoirs on his shoulders after a match of jeu de paume or tennis. During childbirth piles of chauffoirs were laid on a woman’s womb to comfort her and ease delivery of her baby. Chauffoirs also served as small towels for a lady’s toilette, the floral motifs enhancing her beauty regimen.

The chauffoir’s design emphasizes order and grace. Stylized flowers appear inside a cable motif frame. Vases of flowers angle from each corner. Four birds perch along each side of the central panel. The inner border holds more cable motifs; the outer border holds a series of small panels, each filled with either styled floral forms or medallions framed by fans. Such orderly composition worked with short lengths of cording is typical of late 17th-century broderie de Marseille.

This chauffoir is made of two layers of fine percale worked in broderie de Marseille with the running stitch.

Oreiller or Pillow Cover

Oreiller or Pillow Cover
Marseilles region, France
Circa 1700-1720
Cotton 23.5 ×20 in
​2005.018.0003, Kathryn Berenson Collection

In the early years of the 18th century French nobles sought the designs of Jean Berain (1638-1711), showing architectural motifs, arabesques and exotic imagery, to enhance their interior decor. This pillow cover worked in corded needlework was made for use in a luxurious setting, probably an aristocrat’s bedchamber.

The central motif is a handled latticework basket of flowers surmounted by a chinoiserie canopy and set within an architectural ornament of corded lines, all drawn from an adaptation of a Berain design. Outside this pavilion, stylized floral forms trail in arabesques over a ground filled with diagonal corded lines. The border holds another series of sinuous herbaceous forms. Hand-stitched eyelets on the outer edge served to hold the lacing that affixed this frontal piece to a backing, thus allowing it to be removed and laundered.

Made of two layers of mousseline or fine percale worked in miniature scale broderie de Marseille in the running stitch at 24 stitches per inch.

Bedcover, corded quilting, embroidery

Bedcover, corded quilting, embroidery
Marseilles, France
Circa 1715-20
Cotton and linen Top: 56 × 75 in, drop panels 20 in
2005.018.0001, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This elegant bedcover certainly was made for nobility and conceivably was made for Louis XV, when he was a child.

Louis was 8 years old and already heir to the throne when a royal inventory was taken in 1718. The inventory lists a child-size bed with a broderie de Marseille bedcover. The piece you see here fits the dimensions of that bed nicely. And there’s more. Look at the crossed L’s intertwined with M and A in the central monogram. Louis’ father, the duke of Burgundy, used crossed L’s in his monogram and Louis’ mother’s name was Marie-Adelaide –- M and A.

The imagery shows monograms under a crown and framed with laurel or palm fronds. Floral wreaths that stem in basket-weave vases surround the monograms. French knots add texture to the design forms and hand-knotted fringe festoons the edges.

This bed is a reproduction of an 18th-century lit à colonnes. It is child-sized – for a boy who was a king . The royal inventory of 1732, when Louis was 22 years old, listed his bed as much longer and higher. It also had a bedcover worked in broderie de Marseille.

Vanne (small cover), corded quilting
Marseilles region, France 1710-1740 (original work)
Cotton 45 × 62in
2005.018.0006, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This vanne, a small cover made to rest on top of the bed, was assembled from portions of a petticoat worked in broderie de Marseille . The motifs of arabesques, flowers, hearts, leafy fronds, pomegranates, and tulips completely fill the ground and are organized in vertical columns. Similar composition appears in woven silk designs of the period. The most important design area is found in the large section at mid-right and had been the center panel of the petticoat. The cover’s decorative border originally appeared at the petticoat hem. Stipple quilting fills the centers of many of the motifs.

The design and execution of this piece is associated with similar work found in Britain and the US, but there is strong evidence the original models were made in Provence.

The petticoat probably was reformed into the small cover during the early 19th century. Many textiles were recycled to honor the Provencal tradition of placing a white coverlet on the bed of the wedding couple, as you will learn in another area of this exhibition.

Fragment, corded quilting

Fragment, corded quilting
Marseilles region, France
1720-1740
Cotton 23 × 18.5 in
​2006.028.0014, Kathryn Berenson Collection

Alas, death and despair arrived Marseille in 1720 to bring the corded needlework business to an abrupt halt.

The Marseilles area suffered an epidemic of the plague that killed nearly half the population in one horrible year. Foreign ships shunned the harbor, all business ceased, ateliers stood empty. The cotton materials themselves were thought to carry the disease.

When the worst was over, needlework ateliers re-opened, but with very few workers. This fragment dates about 1730. Although it shows a crowned monogram flanked by palm fronds, the motifs are worked in large scale and are widely spaced. The wrinkles and puffs in the open areas distract the eye from the otherwise elegant design. The needlework is less complicated than previous efforts. It required fewer hours to complete and may represent early atelier revival efforts.

Couvre-pieds (small throw)

Couvre-pieds (small throw)
Marseilles region, France
1740-1770
Cotton 55 × 43 in
​2005.054.0001, Kathryn Berenson Collection

Nobles were the most likely consumers of 18th-century textiles and for this reason, heraldry is often seen in textile imagery. This couvre-pieds (pronounced COO-vra- pee-ayds ) was a small throw placed at the foot of a bed or used while seated to ward off the chill. Despite substantial wear the imagery remains: a coat of arms held on each side by lions and surmounted by a jeweled crown.

The arms are contained within an eight-pointed star placed on a field of twining floral and herbaceous motifs. Symmetrical floral sprays stem from each side and corner; the whole is bordered by a band of floral garlands. It is made of a top layer of fine cotton backed with more loosely woven cotton and worked in broderie de Marseille in the running stitch. A similar pointed star and other analogous motifs worked in the same materials appear in the large bedcover (2005.018.0002) seen elsewhere in this exhibition, suggesting they came from associated workrooms, perhaps even the same one.

Chauffoir

Chauffoir
Marseilles region, France
1740-1780
Cotton 34 × 37.5 in
2005.18.04 Kathryn Berenson Collection

In January 1750 Queen Marie Lescynska, wife of Louis XV, redecorated her Fontainebleau palace bedchamber with twelve dozen chauffoirs, six couvre-pieds, and eighteen pillows — all worked in broderie de Marseille.

This piece, filled as it is with motifs reflecting grace and beauty, shows why there would be royal interest in the needlework from Marseilles’ workrooms. The atelier that produced this chauffoir specialized in complex intertwined, herbaceous designs that include stylized fruits and flowers: buds, berries, cones, fronds, pomegranates and tulips all placed on a field of arced corded lines that frequently end in spirals. The finished piece lies perfectly flat, a testament to the skill of the needlewoman who inserted the cording into the curved channels. Note that many of the fruit forms enclose little grids of diamond shapes to represent pomegranate seeds or the scales of cones.

The chauffoir is composed of a top layer of finely woven cotton, backed with cotton almost as fine, and worked in the running stitch.

Bedcover, corded quilting

Bedcover, corded quilting
Marseilles region, France
1740-1770
Cotton 
110 × 96.5 in
2005.018.0002, Kathryn Berenson Collection

The center detail on this large quilt presents an idea of the intricacy of broderie de Marseille needlework during this period. Thousands of tiny lengths of cording were artfully inserted into the design channels. Note the 8-point star, each point separated by an arc, in the center panel of the quilt and also seen in the chauffoir (2005.054.0001) in this exhibition.

The large size, 110 × 96.5 in, is comparable to two other “Marseille piqués” one in the 1762 inventory of the Chateau de Saint-Hubert, the other recorded in 1771 in the Paris apartments of the princess of Talmont (Maria Anna-Louise Jablonowska, cousin of Queen Marie Leszczynska and, briefly, a mistress of England’s Bonnie Prince Charlie).

The bedcover is made of a top layer of fine percale, backed with more loosely woven cotton and is worked in broderie de Marseille with the running stitch. The motifs are similar in execution, materials, and motifs to many smaller pieces found in France and Holland and confirm large production for domestic use and export.

Bedcover, plain quilting

Bedcover, plain quilting
France
circa 1786
Cotton 
​102.5 × 99 in
2008.040.0156, Byron and Sara Dillow Collection

Families in Provence filled their homes with flowers the year round, such as with this pretty bedcover. The red, black and ecru floral prints in this quilted bedcover, have a less aristocratic air than the fastidiously stitched white broderie de Marseille bedcover seen at left, yet they echo the trailing floral motifs used in the white piece and in many different textile objects during the entire 18th century.

This quilted bedcover was fashioned of Provencal wood block printed cottons sometime after 1786. The date is certain because among the scraps pieced together to form the backing is a small morsel of the red, black and ecru floral print that also holds the dated manufacturer’s mark (see below). The top is composed in the fenêtre or window composition, with a red floral trail motif on ecru ground in the middle and a border showing a different floral trail motif in red and black on ecru ground. The quilting is crudely worked because the decorative effect of the piece is to be found in the floral prints.

Petticoat (restyled into a bedcover)

Petticoat (restyled into a bedcover)
Provence, Arles, France
circa 1780-90
Cotton and linen 
​75 × 44 in
2006.049.0002, Kathryn Berenson collection

Production of all-white corded work, still carrying the Marseilles name associated with its early success, was prodigious in other areas in Provence by the mid-18th century. The 1754 bridal trousseau of Gabrielle Fornier of Nîmes held four white petticoats “ piquée de Marseille .” “Foremost summer dress… [is] three petticoats under the best of mousseline,” wrote local archivist Pierre Véran in 1787. He found many women in Arles producing caps, camisoles and petticoats on command; “they do not work under official regulation,” he noted.

This late 18th-century petticoat (later converted into a small bedcover) holds motifs associated with Arles. The upper body of the petticoat, usually covered by an open-front gown and an apron, is quilted in a close-set diamond grid. The border design at the hem shows three finely executed floral vase forms on an intricate diamond mosaic ground also decorated with spaced puffs and flowers; the hem border shows stylized fruits and flowers. Made of fine percale with loosely woven linen backing and worked in the running stitch.

Many white petticoats were transformed into small decorative bedcovers in the early 19th century to follow the new fashion for laying a white cover on the bed the night of the nuptials.

Bedcover, plain and corded quilting

Bedcover, plain and corded quilting
Britain
Circa 1715-1730
Cotton, linen and silk (thread) 
80 × 66 in
​2006.004.0001

This bedcover is most certainly a British interpretation of broderie de Marseille . The central motif shows an elephant carrying a man in a canopied howdah over a field of fleurs de lys, flowers, and S shapes. On the outer edges exotically dressed men play music, recline, wave, present banners, and bow under parasols. In each corner a man holds a lantern, each one in slightly different costume. The border shows floral and fan patterns seen in woven silk designs of the period. Notice the white embroidery that emphasizes the motifs, and the French knots that add surface texture.

None of this imagery traditionally appears in the repertoire of whitework from Marseilles region ateliers. In contrast, their needlework portrayed the entwined floral forms that would appeal to a wide market. Neither does embroidery embellishment appear in traditional Marseilles work. As for fleur de lys, the British had used them in their heraldry since the Middle Ages.

Made of a top layer of cotton backed with loose-weave linen, the bedcover’s body is quilted in the back stitch over cotton batting.

Bedcover, plain quilting and embroidery

Bedcover, plain quilting and embroidery
Probably Britain
Early 18th century
Linen, cotton; cotton and linen thread 
​98 × 97 in
2009.001.0001

This embroidered bedcover holds exotic motifs inspired by imports from the Far East, just as does the bedcover at right, worked in broderie de Marseille .

The embroidery shows a large central 8-point star filled with animal, bird and floral motifs that encircle a woman holding a parasol. The designer cleverly composed this unified whole from a collection of small, similarly sized motifs, apparently gleaned from a pattern book. Although the embroiderer repeated many of the patterns, she created variety in the figures by rarely repeating the same color scheme.

The patterns were inked in by hand — look closely at the horns of the goats in the outer border and at the legs and beaks of the birds. The figures are embroidered in chainstitch, satin stitch, French knots, and couching with cotton yarn. Some of the stitching has degraded, leaving bare spaces, but needle holes and remaining yarn fibers testify to its former completeness. The ground of the bedcover is filled with a diamond grid of yellow silk chainstitch embroidery, an attribute of many embroideries of this period in Britain.

Like many embroiderers this maker used two layers of fabric, both linen, to support her embroidery work. Very little of the cotton and linen wadded batting remains.

Man’s Cap, corded quilting

Man’s Cap, corded quilting
Probably Britain
1710-1730
Cotton 
​10.5 × 10.25 in
2006.004.0002

Considering England’s centuries old quilting and embroidery traditions, the adaptation of corded quilting would have been effortless. Both linen and cotton materials were readily available for English production of white cord-quilted furnishings and garments. Although an act of Parliament signed in 1721 forbade the importation of white cotton, it aimed at quashing British manufacture of printed textiles that competed with the East India Company imports. Domestic plain white weaves with cotton warp and linen weft were exempt and therefore accessible for workshop production.

This man’s cap was probably made in Britain; its solidly packed cording is analogous to that in the border of the bedcover on the facing wall (2006.004.0001). The motifs of twining stylized floral forms were composed to fit each of the two top sections. Symmetrical arabesque forms rise from the cap’s base to end in a flower-filled curl. The attached scalloped brim also has embroidery composed to fit. White on white embroidery embellishes many motifs and a silk tassel adds the finishing touch.

The cap is made of two layers of fine cotton or a mixed cotton and linen weave and worked in broderie de Marseille with running and back stitches.

Purse or Lettercase

Purse or Lettercase
Corded quilting and embroidery
Switzerland
1740-1770
Cotton or linen 
​8 × 4.5 in
2005.018.0005 Kathryn Berenson Collection

The English were not alone in adapting Marseilles corded work to their domestic needlework repertoire. From the early 1700s to the 1750s, needleworkers in other parts of Europe confected articles worked in variants of broderie de Marseille . A small porte-lettre or lettercase that made its way from a Swiss dealer to the IQSC collection is almost identical to two others in a Swiss museum. Each one shows solidly worked corded quilting using the back stitch, the ground speckled with tiny running stitches.

The principal motif on the back of the lettercase is a central monogram with the letters M and V surmounted by a crown and flanked by fronds and stylized floral forms. The pointed flap shows recognizable lilies. Inside the flap (not visible here) an inner panel repeats the floral motifs seen on the back, without the monogram.

baby's cap

Cap, infant; plain and corded quilting, embroidery
Britain
1720-1740
Cotton
​2006.016.0001

A three-section infant cap shows widely spaced corded work. The symmetrically placed floral forms are overlaid with closely set running stitches and white embroidery.

Cap Fragment, corded quilting and embroidery

Cap Fragment, corded quilting and embroidery
Britain
1720-1740
Cotton 
18×10.5 in
2006.002.0002

Another adaptation of corded quilting was the addition of delicately wrought Dresden or Saxe embroidery and drawn work. This white on white embroidery developed in Europe toward the end of the 17th century. It was traditionally worked on fine white cotton with white thread to fashion wardrobe items and accessories.

This corded and embroidered fragment, probably intended as part of a woman’s cap, is made of a top layer of fine cotton backed with loosely woven cotton or linen. The design was first worked in broderie de Marseille using the back stitch and then picked with Dresden embroidery. A final dusting of miniature French knots adds detail to the floral forms.

Cap, Woman’s; corded quilting, drawn work

Cap, Woman’s; corded quilting, drawn work
Origin unknown
1740-1760
Cotton 
​2006.013.0001

This woman’s cap holds intricate drawn work in the floral forms depicted in its two sections: a band that runs from one side to the other and a back. The motifs are arranged in perfect symmetry.

Cradle Sham

Cradle Sham
US
1790-1840
Cotton 
9 × 9 in
​2005.018.0008, Kathryn Berenson Collection

Turn of the century fashion for all-white Neoclassical designs inspired the creation of this small cradle sham. The motifs show a handled and footed urn filled with fruit, flanked with bunches of grapes at the foot and an elaborate blossom at the top. While most of the piece is stuffed-work (bits of loose cotton inserted through the back), the outline of the vase and the parallel lines within its decor are vestiges of the corded-work technique.

It was made with a top layer of fine cotton backed by a loose cotton weave, worked in the back stitch at 25 stitches per inch. The cording inside the channels is a 4-ply yarn similar to that used for candlewicking.

Bedcover, reformed from petticoat

Bedcover, reformed from petticoat
Provence, France
circa 1850
Cotton 
​69 × 43 in (reformed as a small cover)
2005.018.0023, Kathryn Berenson Collection

Convent residents in Provence stitched white wedding petticoats with fanciful borders in broderie de Marseille by the meter as means of supporting their order. A bride would come to the convent, select the pattern that pleased her, and the appropriate length would be cut. This former petticoat is an example: Marseilles textile collector Thierry Guien reports finding three identical white cotton petticoat lengths similar to this piece in goods from a convent in Saint Maximin, near Marseilles.

The petticoat border shows an delicately composed frieze of intertwined palm fronds and floral sprays edged top and bottom with six rows of cording. The petticoat was made of two layers of white cotton quilted and cord quilting with the running stitch. It was later reformed into a small bedcover, perhaps to serve as a ceremonial wedding piece.

Petticoat

Petticoat
Provence, France
1840-1860
Cotton 
160 × 39
2006.009.0001, Kathryn Berenson Collection

Historian Claude Seignolle describes the wedding attire worn by a bride in 1858 in the village of Brignoles as a "white stitched and quilted gown decorated all around with designs representing lozenges, ovals, cables, waffle motifs, finally all the imagination the needlewoman could realize with her needle.” This wedding petticoat realizes Seignolle’s description: the border of the hem is filled with undulating strings of pearls alternated with rosemary branches that separate vignettes of blooming rosemary, with rows of pearls and rosemary branches on top and edged with seven horizontal lines at the bottom.

Bedcover, corded quilting

Bedcover, corded quilting
Probably Marseilles, France
1830-1850
Cotton 
50 × 64 in
​2005.018.0009, Kathryn Berenson Collection

Clusters of ripe apricots, cherries, grapes, pears, plums, and pomegranates mingle with nosegays of bellflowers, daisies, roses, tulips and wisteria in this small quilted cover made to lie on top of the nuptial bed.

The elaborate border features a pearl-trimmed ribbon that springs from an exotic plant along each side, then twines over and under fabulous arrangements of fruits and flowers to end in a kashmir cone in each corner. The composition and execution show a mastery of design, materials, and the broderie de Marseille technique , worked in large scale.

This piece comes from the same professional atelier as the last piece in this gallery. In all, there are ten known pieces with similar high, rounded motifs. Each one shows different compositions of fruits and flowers, twining vines, ribbons, and pearls, and several include bird motifs. Not one is alike and not one is the same size, evidence each one was made to order.

A circa 1800 city directory, Le guide Marseillois , lists over twenty tapissiers, where such pieces would have been made.

Bedcover

Bedcover
Provence, France
1815-1850
Cotton 
50 × 45 in
2005.018.0010, Kathryn Berenson Collection

The Maison Carrée , a Roman temple that dates to 16 BCE, still stands in Nîmes, France and is depicted on the left border of this wedding cover. The building appears between two cypress trees and is surmounted by two cupids, each bearing a heart and gesturing to the large daisy between them. Imagery showing outsized sprays of blooming rosemary and great ripe melons, both indigenous to Provence, adds to the expression of regional pride and personal affection.

Rosemary is of particular significance. There is a Provencal saying, “With rosemary love is born.” On the first of May in several villages a young man would rise at dawn to place a sprig of rosemary on the windowsill of his heart’s desire. If she returned his affection, she would plant the sprig in fertile soil and place the pot on the sill.

The large star at the top may represent the bridegroom, while the fields of daisies at the bottom signify the bride’s femininity (this triangular field also appears on the piece on the sling, opposite). Look for the little dog carrying a basket on the upper right border. The center of the quilt is worked in a grid of small lozenges known as tommettes . The whole is made of fine cotton using the broderie de Marseille technique in the backstitch [please check this] , the stitches worked at twelve per inch, suggesting a professional’s handiwork.

Bedcover, corded quilting

Bedcover, corded quilting
Marseilles region, France
1825-50
Cotton 
49.5 × 46.5 in
​2005.018.0007, Kathryn Berenson Collection

Laurel is significant in Provencal tradition – in the 19th century swags of laurel draped entire villages in celebration of Easter and were used in the fire of the Fête de St.-Jean. In several valleys of the low Alps, a young woman would incise the names of several marriageable young men on a laurel leaf. She kept the leaf tucked over her heart until evening, when she looked to see which name had darkened the most, for that would be the name of her future husband.

This white courtepointe de mariage or wedding piece shows a laurel garland framing a footed, fluted vase that holds a bouquet of flowers: roses for true, passionate love, daisies for femininity and lilies for purity. The medallion rests on a field of squares alternately filled with small lozenge shapes and multi-petal blossoms. A series of borders show olives and olive branches, swags of rosemary and garlands of daisies. The olive motifs may indicate the occupation of the groom and certainly portend richness and abundance.

How many hours did it take to create this piece? Surely hundreds  all done through a small hole worked in the backing.

Bedcover

Bedcover
Provence, France
circa 1830
Cotton
60 × 51
​2005.018.0011, Kathryn Berenson Collection

The first giraffe to arrive in Europe was a two-year old female presented to Charles X of France in 1827 by the viceroy of Egypt. She crossed the Mediterranean without harm, but how to get her to Paris? She walked there after months of training in Marseilles. The famed naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire was her trainer; docile cows were her companions.

A giraffe appears just above the corner on the right border of this ceremonial wedding cover. Provencal wedding pieces are known to hold images of significance to the families involved. Perhaps the individuals who ordered this piece attended one of the nightly dinner parties held by the prefect of Marseilles. The prefect hosted her in his stables during her training and after dinner led his guests to her presence for an audience with the animal he fondly called “my adopted daughter.”

Among other border vignettes are a woman spinning next to a man presenting a rose (left), a fountain of love and a cupid (upper right), and two flaming hearts on a pedestal (bottom center). The fine composition and execution of this wedding piece indicate it probably came from a professional atelier.

Bedcover

Bedcover
Provence, France
1815
(found in New England, United States)
Cotton 
100.5 × 91 in
​1997.007.0620, Robert and Ardis James Collection

What more appropriate figure could appear on a bedcover made to celebrate a marriage than Venus, the goddess of love? There she reigns on the upper left please check this border of this piece, her shawl billowing behind her as she rides in a chariot pulled by two swans, a cherub sprinkling posies preceding her. The message of romance is reconfirmed by heart motifs in all four corners, each surmounted by what looks to be the date 1815.

Many motifs – the diamond-shaped center holding a vase of flowers on a field of high-relief lozenge shapes, the series of birds and flower baskets on the border — are traditional to the Provencal repertoire and technique, as are the diamond points at top and bottom that are show a field of alternating diamonds and daisies. It is most likely that it was made in Provence, perhaps with the dates added later in New England. Equally possible is that it was brought from Provence with an immigrant family.

Small Cover

Small Cover
Provence, France
1900-1920
Cotton 
36 × 32.5 in
​2006.028.0001, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This small cover served as a large lap piece or even as a small floor rug for a baby on social occasions. An example of simple Provencal folk art, it features a diamond grid center framed with abundant floral garlands worked in naive shapes to form a wide border. The needlewoman inserted thick cotton batting between two layers of cotton then quilted them all together using tight tension to create the high surface relief. The edging shows three rows of corded-look lines.

Petassoun (Infant lap piece)

Petassoun (Infant lap piece)
Mediterranean coast, France
1850-1890
Cotton 
19 × 18 in
2005.018.0012, Kathryn Berenson Collection

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.

Petassoun, Infant lap piece

Petassoun, Infant lap piece
Mediterranean coast, France
Late-18th to mid-19th century
Cotton 
​19 × 18 in
2005.037.0003, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This piece features a stylized pomegranate center wreathed with rosemary. Possibly made for the daughter of a vineyard owner, this piece holds fat bunches of grapes and shows daisies on the border, a symbol of femininity.

Petassoun, Infant lap piece

Petassoun, Infant lap piece
Mediterranean coast, France
Late-18th to mid-19th century
Cotton 
​20 × 17.5
2006.028.0010, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This petassoun features a stylized pomegranate center wreathed in blooming rosemary further surrounded by floral garlands coming from highly decorated urns in each corner. It also is finished with daisy motifs in each border scallop.

Petassoun, Infant lap piece

Petassoun, Infant lap piece
Mediterranean coast, France
Late-18th to mid-19th century
Cotton 
19 × 19 in
2006.028.0013, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This piece features a square central motif, filled with a grid of lozenges, again suggesting a pomegranate and portending an abundant future for the infant. The symbolism continues with the two sets of borders formed by sprays of blooming rosemary, the outer border holding a small cluster of grapes in each corner.

Petassoun, Infant lap piece

Petassoun, Infant lap piece
Mediterranean coast, France
Late-18th to mid-19th century
Cotton 
​19 × 18 in
2006.028.0012, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This petassoun shows extremely orderly composition: a central stylized pomegranate wreathed with a single rosemary branch set with four small buds; four sprays of rosemary arc from a full blossom in each corner. These motifs are pleasingly set on the traditional ground of diagonal corded lines the whole edged with scallops.

Bib, infant

Bib, infant
United States
1860-1880
7.5 × 6.5 in
​2005.018.0030, Kathryn Berenson Collection

A baby bib from the United States demonstrates design vestiges of corded white work in the pattern of machine stitching that shows a diamond shape in the center and rows of parallel lines around the edge.

Bib, infant

Bib, infant
Provence, France
1850-1890
Cotton
​2008.040.0268, Byron and Sara Dillow Collection

White biberon or bib made of two layers of fine cotton worked in broderie de Marseille with the running stitch. Motifs show a central petaled flower on a ground of diagonal corded lines and with a spray of rosemary coming from the back on each side ending in a flower; the border is scalloped. This little morsel resembles the group of petassouns on the nearby wall in both motif selection and execution.

bonnet

Bonnet
Provence, France
1870-1890
Cotton
​2005.018.0032, Kathryn Berenson Collection

By the late 19th century, women had interests and concerns other than time-consuming needlework. They also had access to inexpensive manufactured goods delivered by an efficient rail system and they had sewing machines. Two women’s bonnets from Provence show motifs quilted in imitation of those worked in the broderie de Marseille technique but these were quilted with a sewing machine – perhaps to show off the seamstress’s prowess with this newly arrived technology.

This bonnet was formed of two main sections [check this] that have been quilted in a close-set double line diamond grid. The back section is attached to the two front sections with cannon pleating.

bonnet

Bonnet
Provence, France
1870-1890
Cotton 
​2005.018.0031, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This bonnet was formed of two main sections [check this] that have been quilted in a single line diamond grid with a decorative band showing a variation of the cable motif stitched in the middle of the front and back and along the border of the front, as a frame.

Petassoun (Infant lap piece)

Petassoun (Infant lap piece)
Mediterranean coast, France
Late-18th to mid-19th century
Cotton 
20.5 × 18.5 in
2008.040.0158, Byron and Sara Dillow Collection

In this petassoun made for a baby boy the central pomegranate motif is bordered with acorns-a symbol of strength. Acorns also appear in the curves of the scalloped edge. The child’s birth is also celebrated with a wreath of blooming rosemary that stems from handled vases in each corner.

Bedcover, plain and stuffed quilting

Bedcover, plain and stuffed quilting
Clinton County, New York
1820
Cotton 
​97.75 × 93.25 in
2008.038.0001

As the 19th century began, American quilters elaborated on motifs they rendered in their corded and stuffed white work. They combined the graceful floral vase motifs common to the French repertoire with their own imagery of personal significance. Their pieces also often held inscriptions of initials, location and date.

An undulating feather wreath reminds us of the rosemary garlands seen in Provencal corded work. It frames a flower-filled cornucopia in this bedcover. Large bunches of grapes fill the space outside the wreath. It is personalized by two ovals at the top holding the inscriptions “BM Goodell, Clinton” and “1820.”

[Do we want all this?] The original owner of this piece, Betty Morrison (born in 1788) married Nathaniel Goodell on January 14, 1820. The couple had four children. Betty remarried in 1830, following the death of Nathaniel. Again a widow in 1843 Betty and children rode an ox-driven cart to Platteville, Wisconsin, where she died in 1865.

Pillow Sham, quilted and stuffed

Pillow Sham, quilted and stuffed
New Haven, Connecticut
1821
Cotton 
​19.25 × 18.5 in
2008.003.0003

Motifs in this New England pillow sham show a garland of roses enclosing a basket that tips over with its bounty of tulips, roses and other less identifiable blossoms. At the top two eagles hold banners over the inscription, “New Haven Jan 1st 1821.” Note that the background was left unworked, as is frequently found in 19th-century all white needlework in North America.

corset

Corset
Britain
Circa 1820
Cotton, ivory 
17.5 × 13 in
2006.030.0002

The high-waisted dresses of the early 19th century required complementary undergarments. Soft corsets or stays like this one lifted the bust and compressed the waist and hips into a narrow tube-like shape. They thus allowed the skirt to fall in an unencumbered, flowing line from the high waist.

The corded lines in this corset are not only decorative but lend rigidity to the undergarment. The cording is worked in the back stitch; back lacing through ivory eyelets.

Coat, man’s (dismounted), corded quilting

Coat, man’s (dismounted), corded quilting
Origin unknown (found in France)
19th century
Cotton 
57.5 × 68.5 in
​2005.018.0024, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This man’s coat made of pale green satin-weave cotton shows straight-line geometric motifs worked in corded quilting in the running stitch. It is one of a several similar coats found in Britain, France, and even China. A stamp in illegible Arabic marks many of the coats. All have the same A-line cut, square set-in sleeves and alternating bands of multiple zigzag lines and four-petal floral motifs.

When participants in The British Quilt Heritage Project, conducted by the Quilter’s Guild during 1990-1993, uncovered three coats they turned to experts. Consultants from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, suggested the pieces originated in the Ottoman empire, perhaps in Damascus, to be worn during informal social occasions (Quilt Treasures of Great Britain  1995, pp. 73,76).

Bedcover, corded quilting

Bedcover, corded quilting
Probably Marseilles
1830-50
Cotton 
​70 × 58 in
2008.040.0157, Byron and Sara Dillow Collection

The composition, execution, and materials of this ceremonial wedding bedcover represent the highest expression of 19th-century all-white broderie de Marseille .

A central floral wreath marked with hearts encloses the superimposed letters J and R. This luxuriant arrangement speaks the language of love — lilacs for tender love, peonies for sincere love, and roses, queen of flowers, for passionate love. Irises portend a happy future for the couple. Daisies symbolize femininity, and lilies-of-the-valley represent love’s eternal springtime.

The border holds a bower of flowers mingled with fruits: apricots, figs, melons, plums, and pears bursting with juice; entwined grapes and grapevines; and the open blossoms and plump fruit of tomato plants. Each corner holds an artichoke, a cardoon or a pineapple, their leaves gracefully curved to resemble a lyre. Look also for four birds, one alighting to pluck a berry. Note the pattern line markings in blue and graphite remain visible.

Just imagine — the newly married couple enters their bedchamber. This exquisite piece lies on the bed, its magnificent forms limned with candlelight. The bedcover itself serves as a lovely metaphor for a happy marriage — designed and pursued with dexterity and patience, and full of beauty and grace.

Bedcover, Amish

Bedcover, Amish
Holmes County, Ohio
1897
Cotton 
66 × 84 in
​2005.018.0022, Kathryn Berenson Collection

This bedcover, although made in an entirely different cultural environment, shows a similar aesthetic to Marseilles white corded quilting. It, too, is basically a monochrome plane manipulated with needle and thread to create an object of visual interest.

Moreover, the design imagery seen in this Amish bedcover dated 1897 (see lower left corner) hearkens back to imagery seen in the corded quilting worked centuries ago in Marseilles. The crossed feather diagonals and four double feather wreaths, the grid pattern in the main body, the leaf branch on the green inner border, and the 12-strand cable on the outer border are all reminiscent of the cable, laurel and rosemary motifs seen in the 18th- and 19th-century Provencal work on display here.

Works in the Exhibition
This exhibition was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Robert and Ardis James Foundation, Mary Munson Wilson Balch Fund, Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Excellence Fund, University of Nebraska Foundation and The Mountain Top Quilters Guild of Prescott, Arizona.
Event Date
Saturday, November 13, 2010 to Sunday, May 22, 2011