In fact quilting - a needlework technique involving two or more layers of fabric, usually sandwiched with padding, stitched together in a decorative pattern, dates back much further than that.
A tomb from the 5th century discovered in Germany contained a wool twill pall, or coffin cover, quilted with Egyptian cotton. Although obviously a luxury item, and almost certainly imported, it suggests that quilting was established enough in the Mediterranean in the Dark Ages to be traded to the less civilized north.
Quilting does not appear to have been widely practiced in Europe before the 12th century and is often thought to have been brought back from the Middle East by the returning Crusaders. In Medieval times quilted doublets were worn to provide warmth and protection.
The word quilt is derived from the Latin culcita, meaning a padded and tied mattress similar to a Japanese futon.
Quilting traditions are particularly strong in the United States. When the Mayflower sailed from Harwich, England to America families found they needed their wits to survive in this New World. Thrifty women, without a good source of fabric, needed to create warm bed covers using scraps of material and padding.
The quilts they created for their beds or a baby’s cot could be simple or highly elaborate and beautiful. Quilting was often a communal activity, involving women and girls in a family, or in a larger community.
Quilts were often made to commemorate major life events, such as marriages or the birth of a baby. Wedding quilts are still popular in parts of the US today but it is considered bad luck to include heart motifs in the design.
Quilting is also hugely popular hobby in Britain too where many more people stitch quilts for pleasure rather than necessity.
Magazines, television programmes and exhibitions demonstrating the skills and art of the quilt maker attract much attention. The largest quilt show in Europe will be held at the NEC between August 16 and 19.
Now in its tenth year, The Festival of Quilts will include around 1,000 competition quilts on display, galleries from leading international quilt artists and groups, exhibitors selling specialist patchwork and quilting supplies as well as master classes, workshops and lectures.
Work has been loaned from both individual private collectors as well as well known galleries and museums such as The Victoria and Albert Museum, Dorset County Museum, Essex Museums and the Royal Hospital Museum.
For the beginner or the enthusiast it is worth finding a hotel in Birmingham to stay over as special exhibition events are laid on after the show closes each day. The Birmingham NEC hotels all have good communications links to the exhibition centre and there is plenty to do in the city each evening if you don’t want to join in the extra-curricula stitching!