Research: Quilt History

Dr Clare Rose is a recognised expert on the history of patchwork and quilting, specialising in British and European quilts and quilted garments from 1700-1900. She advised the Victoria and Albert Museum on the object descriptions for their 2010 exhibition ‘Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories’, and spoke at the related conference. She has researched and published many of the quilts and quilted garments in the V&A collection.

Her most recently published quilt history article is ‘Professional Quilters in Colonial-Era London’ in Spike Gillespie’s Quilts Around the World: The Story of Quilting from Alabama to Zimbabwe. This article examines the lives of women trying to make a living from quilting before 1800, mostly working on wholecloth quilted silk or wool petticoats to wear under fashionable dresses. It discovers the voices of quilters in the Old Bailey Trials records – including the quilter who stole the petticoat she was stitching, and another accused of running a house of assignation!  It illustrates surviving examples from museum collections.

During 2009 Clare Rose was an advisor to the Berlin State Museums for ‘Inlaid Patchwork in Europe from 1500 to the Present, collaborating with experts in Europe, America and Australia. She contributed a chapter on ‘Exhibiting Knowledge: British Inlaid Patchwork’ and several object descriptions to the catalogue, and was instrumental in organizing the British staging of the exhibition.

Clare Rose has researched the history of professional quiltmaking  in Britain before 1800, uncovering how quilted goods were traded between India, Europe, Britain, and the American colonies. She has studied surviving quilts and merchants documents in European, British and American archives to see how patterns and techniques were copied and developed in order to profit from the fashion for quilting.

Clare Rose is an Associate Fellow of the International Quilt Study Centre of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She has lectured on quilts to the IQSC, Colonial Williamsburg, Quilt Expo Europa, the Centre International d’Etude des Textiles Anciens, the British Festival of Quilts, and the British Quilt Study Group.

Quilt History Articles

  • Professional Quilters in Colonial-Era London, in Spike Gillespie (ed.), Quilts Around the World, (Voyageur Press, Beverly, MA, 2010)
  • Exhibiting Knowledge: British Inlaid Patchwork/Wissen ausstellen: Britische Tuchintarsien, in Dagmar Neuland-Kitzerow (ed.), Fabric Intarsia in Europe from 1500 to the Present Day/Tuchintarsien in Europa von 1500 bis heute, (Berlin:  Museum Europäischer Kulturen, 2009) pp. 87-98
  • Bought, stolen, bequeathed, preserved: sources for the study of eighteenth-century petticoats, in Maria Hayward (ed.), Textiles and Text: Re-establishing the links between archival and object-based research (London: Archetype Publications, 2009) pp. 114-21
  • Quilting in Eighteenth Century London: the Objects, the Evidence, Quilt Studies 2 (2000), pp. 11-30
  • Stitched Inlay: a Geographical Puzzle, Hali 106 (September 1999) pp. 78-82
  • Boutis de Londres: Marseilles quilting and its imitations in 18th-century London, CIETA Bulletin 76 (1999) pp. 104-113

5 Responses to Research: Quilt History



    • Clare says:

      Dear Shirley
      Good to hear from a NZ quilt enthusiast. As you probably know William Morris did not design quilts, and the fabrics made by his company were too stiff for patchwork. However his firm did make some very beautiful embroidered bedcovers which could be reinterpreted in patchwork – you can find out about these in Linda Parry’s books, ‘William Morris’ and ‘William Morris Textiles’ . The V&A Museum has good online resources on Morris,
      The V&A did a major exhibition of British quilts, ‘Quilts 1700-2010’, and there is a catalogue with lots of photos and information about quilting, edited by Sue Prichard. The V&A website is the best one for information on historic textiles as you can ‘search the collections’ and find images and reliable information. There is even an iphone app about their quilts! More information on their website, here –

      The other main source of information on British quilts 1850-1900 is the Quilters Guild,, who have published ‘Quilt Treasures’ (Deirdre Macdonald Books, 1995) which has lots of photos and information.

      You can probably get the books I’ve mentioned through an inter-library loan (we can in the UK) or try amazon.

      Best wishes

      Clare Rose

  2. I’m a writer of historical romances among other genres currently working on a novel set in the early 1800’s in New Brunswick, Canada. I’m wondering what sort of fill women would have used in those days. Would batting have been available in such remote communities? I have heard of duck and goose feathers being used but am wondering if other materials would have been employed.

    Gail MacMillan

    • Clare says:

      Dear Gail
      Great that you found my page – good to hear from you. Going back to 1800 in a rural community means a total rethink of how textiles were used – it would probably have been subsistence farming, with ANY goods not produced locally being extremely high priced and hard to come by. Given the local climate I imagine they would have raised sheep (you can check this) so clothing, bedding, everything would have been made from home spun and home woven wool – unless there was a cotton producing centre nearby, or unless they had goods like furs they could trade for imports. ‘Batting’ as such for quilts did not exist – quilters would use carded fibres of the kind they were spinning (wool in wool areas, cotton in cotton areas). Fibres too short or too messed up for spinning could be used in quilts, so it was economy of a sort. They might also have filled quilts with old wool blankets – not necessarily clothes as some clothing fabrics were too tough. Don’t forget that women might still wear quilted wool petticoats in winter – not fashionable but very warm! Down and feathers would be used to stuff pillows and eiderdowns – sometimes called ‘couettes’ in French which is another word for quilts – but NOT stitched quilts. You can find out more about quilted petticoats in my chapter in ‘Quilts Around the World’ by Spike Gillespie. A good book on Canada is ‘Quilts and other Bed Coverings in the Canadian Tradition’ by Ruth McKendry (Discovery Books, 1979). Below is an 1850s wool quilt from Nova Scotia in the collections of the International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska

  3. Dear Dr Rose,

    I would love to read your article on Inlaid Appliqué if you are able – and care to —send a link to me at

    I’m fascinated by the possibility of soldiers/sailors’ heavy uniforms being incorporated into inlaid woolen quilts.

    Thank you for your time and trouble in this.


    Elly Sienkiewicz

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