Time for a bit of learning on my behalf: I have a question. I’ve been trying to figure out just what makes a patchwork quilt a patchwork quilt. The boundaries of what a patchwork quilt is seems so incredible permeable, and definitions seem to vary depending on who I am asking. And I know that is often the nature of things, especially traditions, but here I remain trying to figure out just what makes a patchwork quilt a patchwork quilt.

Is it the blocks (four-patch, nine-patch, etc.) that determines that a patchwork quilt is indeed a patchwork quilt? Is it the approach of using small bits of fabric? Where do crazy quilts fit into this? (I frequently see these called patchwork quilts.) What, exactly, constitutes a patch? Can one strip-piece a patchwork quilt, or does it have to be done using blocks? And so many more questions. Every time I think I understand, something else comes along to baffle me. Is it just the sort of thing that you recognize when you see it? If so, what happens when I don’t recognize it?

You may wonder why I ask now. Well, I am caught up a bit in patchwork-mania with the Summer of Scrap Vomit, and I just can’t seem to get this question out of my head. Oh, speaking of Scrap Vomit, how about a couple more blocks for the show-and-tell parade???



So, with all these wee squares (patches?) floating around my studio and in my head I cannot get the whole patchwork thing out of my head. That’s a common problem with me; lots of stuff seems to get lodged up there in my old noggin. Hence I turn to you all for help. Please leave your comments; I’ll be watching and asking follow-up questions. I beg of you, help me get to sleep tonight (this plagued me for about two hours last night until my mind finally just shut down and sent me off to sleep)…


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23 Responses to Patchwork???

  1. 1
    Jodi says:

    Well according to Wikipedia:
    “Patchwork or “pieced work” is a form of needlework that involves sewing together pieces of fabric into a larger design. The larger design is usually based on repeat patterns built up with different colored shapes. These shapes are carefully measured and cut, straight-sided, basic geometric shapes making them easy to piece together. Precise joining makes for patchwork that lies flat without puckers.”

    To me, it doesn’t matter I guess. I just love to quilt, sew, create and don’t care what it is called. You brain is working overtime! : ) I hope you get a better answer than I have but I think as long as you love it, it is whatever you want it to be!

    • 1.1
      thomas says:

      I’ve seen so many definitions just like that one, but it would seem to say that any quilt is a patchwork quilt, which doesn’t quite make sense to me.

      And I agree that it doesn’t really matter whether a quilt is patchwork or not for it to be good, but I do want to make sense of what I am doing.

  2. 2
    mo says:

    Honestly I have never thought much about it. It makes sense to me that something you make by combining different pieces of fabricc is patchwork. If I made a baby quilt out of a large piece of fabric for the front and one for the back, thatms not patchwork. It has always meant to me the combining of diff fabrics. If I think of when quilting was more utilitarian before the advent of so much disposable income and great fabric stores they were patching bits together to make a whole and what we do came from that.

    • 2.1
      thomas says:

      So does that make patchwork an unnecessary term? I don’t think it is, but this really does have me befuddled, and it is just the sort of thing to drive me nuts… I need to get Rashida in on this!

  3. 3
    Kathleen P says:

    I believe patchwork indicates piecing, period. I think it was used in antiquing / museum circles (a world of which I only have a little bit of knowledge) in a somewhat pejorative way: indicating people who sewed things together to save money, rather than us buy the fancy fabric and put it together all pretty like 21st century folks. I have always heard patchwork used for the past, not the present.

  4. 4

    I don’t think there really is a difference aside from semantics. In the UK, what the Americans refer to as quilting is called patchwork – the use of small pieces of fabric resewn into larger blocks and then into a quilt top. Quilting as a term here is reserved for one of two things. This is either the use of a running stitch to attach three layers together OR the stitched pattern on a wholecloth quilt. These are most often made in the North of England and Wales and are completely hand sewn often using no pattern. See the work of Amy Emms for a clarification or follow the link

    Sufficiently confused?

  5. 5
    Erica says:

    Rosane is right. Patchwork is sewing small pieces together to make a larger piece ie work with patches. In our case, we work with fabric pieces. Don’t over-think it – it’s quite a simple concept! 🙂

    • 5.1
      thomas says:

      I don’t think I am overthinking this; it is just that it seems to me that patchwork is in some way a subset of quilting, and I would like to know what that entails. I have no particular stake in what that happens to be, but I do like to understand the terms we all seem to be using. It seems to me that if we are to make sense of and to each other we need to be using words in at least similar ways. It still seems to me that we would all be reluctant to call a quilt that is simply two large pieces of fabric pieced together to form a larger piece a patchwork quilt, but it would satisfy the definition you have set out…

      Really I am just trying to figure out this word, cause I do think it probably refers to a some set of quilting traditions. At the same time I think there are vast areas of modern (and traditional) quilting that one really wouldn’t call patchwork.

  6. 6
    Sharon says:

    I think of a patchwork quilt as being made of different fabric, like what your making…lots of different fabrics. And also using the different fabrics randomly.
    Just my 2 cents.

  7. 7
    Erica says:

    A quilt refers to layers of fabric, not to using small pieces to make a larger piece of fabric. Some people refer to quilting as the act of making a quilt (which I prefer to call quilt making), while others reserve that term for the stitching that holds the layers together (which I do). I think that usually the context of the word ‘quilting’ in a sentence indicates what the writer means.

  8. 8
    Amanda says:

    My definition is maybe a little simpler than most. When I think of a patchwork quilt, I think of small patches of scrap fabric pieced together to make a quilt. Not necessarily matching (kinda like a patch on the knees of jeans), but recycling/repurposing those little extra bits from other sewing, flour sacks, or old, tattered clothing/sheets into something larger.

  9. 9
    Belinda Shreeve says:

    Patchwork is 2 or more pieces being put together to create a larger whole. 2 rabbit skins, 2 bear skins, 2 pieces of fabric, whatever. Inuuit, Aboriginies, all ancient cultures used patchwork to make larger pieces of “fabric” not necessarily cloth in the terms we understand it today. The piecing of the two (or more) does not have to be in compliance with a pattern, it can be random or by design.

    Quilt, is the layering of two or more “fabrics” (and I use the term loosely) to lend warmth, strength and/or structure to the “fabrics”.

    Quilting (noun) is the method used to secure the layers together. I can be tying with thread, buttons, sinew or any other suitable item. It can be done by hand or machine.
    Quilting (verb) also defines the act of achieving the layering by the person doing it.

    These are quite simplistic, but apply at the base of the concept. Everything else comes from these roots. Art Quilt, Wholecloth quilt, patchwork skirt, burri, etc., can all be defined from these points.
    Hope this helps.

  10. 10
    vicki says:

    Patchwork is also called piecing, and it’s different from applique another type of quiltmaking. Wholecloth is another different category of quilts. 🙂

    • 10.1
      thomas says:

      Perhaps it has a lot to do with the emphasis and intention of the quilt. If the emphasis is on the piecing together we think of it as patchwork; if applique or embroidery, maybe not. As I said above it seems a very permeable term, just one I was trying to suss out more thoroughly. It also seems that there may be differences in how the term is used in different countries and areas, which I think was adding to my confusion.

  11. 11
    Alissa says:

    In the fashion world they use the term “color blocking” all the time. They also use “patchwork” but they are two different things. Is that kinda what you mean?

    • 11.1
      thomas says:

      Really didn’t mean anything in particular with the question. It seemed like a term that was being defined a bunch of different ways in different places I looked. I was just hoping for some insight; I never imagined the can of worms I was opening. It seems that there are technical definitions and vernacular usages that don’t always align; I was just trying to puzzle these together for my own understanding. It is a term I grew up with, but used in a way that may be more specific than the official definition.

  12. 12
    Liz says:

    Hey Thomas, I think I recognize at least two of the fabrics in those two blocks. I can’t wait to see it all done! I am no quilting/sewing expert, but in my mind patchwork always meant squares of fabric sewn together, as in scrap vomit. I don’t think that piecing and patchward are synonymous, but that’s me. I’m fine with others defining it differently.

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