A patchwork quilt is a type of quilt in which the top layer of material is made from many small pieces of fabric pieced together in a patchwork pattern. It is the most common type of quilt, and many varied examples of historical patchwork quilts can be found in textile museums. Traditionally, a patchwork quilt would have been hand pieced, often by a group of women, and some quilters still do their sewing by hand. The majority of modern quilting, however, is accomplished with the use of a sewing machine.
A quilt is a type of textile which incorporates three layers. The top layer is often designed to be decorative, since it will be seen. The middle layer is made from batting, a thick material designed to serve as insulation. The bottom layer holds the batting in, and all three layers are stitched together. Technically, “quilting” refers to the act of connecting the layers. When the layers are quilted together, the stitches form a series of compartments, so that the batting will not redistribute itself in clumps. The finished quilt is used on beds or as a standalone blanket to keep someone warm.
When small pieces of fabric are sewn together, the result is known as patchwork. A patchwork quilt incorporates a top layer of patchworked material, which can be assembled in any pattern. In some cases, a patchwork quilt may be made from specific quilting blocks, set patterns with particular shapes, some of which have been made for over two hundred years. Other patchwork quilts use a random assortment of fabrics and colors with no discernible color scheme or pattern. Other designers create colorwash quilts, designed to look like watercolors, or other unique designs, such as a patchwork quilt made to look like a map of a town.
Initially, the concept of a patchwork quilt arose to use up scraps of fabric which would otherwise go to waste. Early patchwork quilts were probably made with a focus of using up materials in mind, rather than creating a particular pattern. The idea of using the small scraps to create representational patterns known as blocks led the rise of distinct and amazing quilts which are passed down for generations. A patchwork quilt can also be made with applique, a pattern of fabric sewed onto a solid backing, and often integrates embroidery as well.
Women could work together on a patchwork quilt, bringing materials from many households together. Cooperative quilting efforts still take place, with each participant contributing a single block of the finished product. These cooperative quilts are often created by community quilting societies which are trying to keep the art of quilting alive. They are sold, often for substantial sums, and are sometimes used to raise money for a small community or organization.