Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Tree of Life Palampore

I've been perusing a lovely new book about American quilts by Robert Shaw. Shaw notes that while after the Civil War quilting came to be seen as a humble art, a way for thrifty farm wives to use up scraps of cloth, the first quilts in North America were made by elite women. After all, cloth of the quality needed for quilting was expensive, and few poor women could have accumulated enough of it to properly cover a bed. Some of the oldest American quilts are made with single sheets of cloth on both sides, nothing patchwork about them.

At the time we are talking about, the mid 1700s, the British elite was mad for cloth imported from India. One of the fabrics they loved the most was what they called palampore, printed cotton made on the Coromandel coast opposite Sri Lanka. These elaborate designs were made by repeated printings using a dye that only adhered where a special binding agent had been painted on to the fabric, sometimes finishing by painting on details with a brush. This example has been made into a quilt.

And one of the most common designs on these fabrics, or at least one of the most common in 21st century collections, is called the Tree of Life. Love it.

These are all rather faded now but they were once much brighter and more vibrant. I would certainly have loved to have one on my bed.

And finally one in the Met, because they have at least one of everything.

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