ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History / books

  Marseille: The Cradle of White Corded Quilting, by Kathryn Berenson, International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska, Lincoln USA, NE 68583-0838 (402) 472-6342 , 128 pages, ca. 125 illustrations (100 color, 25 b&w), text in english, published 2010, ISBN 978-9814582-4-3, distributed by :University of Nebraska Press at $ 29.95
Individual copies of the book /Marseille/ are available for pre-order from <>,, and with delivery when it is released in late October.
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  Press release
which accompanies an exhibition on the same topic, traces the origins and the commercial development of needlework called broderie de Marseille. These supple, all-white corded and quilted furnishings - from bedcovers to quilted bodices and caps - grew out of the thriving textile trade centered on France's Mediterranean port of Marseilles. During the seventeenth century, the region's interpretation of quilted needlework became so treasured that it seduced markets throughout Europe and its farflung colonies.

Broderie de Marseille is a form of three-dimensional textile sculpture using plain white cloth and white cotton cording, deftly manipulated with needle and thread to reveal patterns highlighted by the resulting play of light and shadow on the textile surface. Skillful execution of broderie de. Marseille resulted in delicate, refined work that graced the homes and figures of aristocrats and launched an international passion for all-white corded needlework. The quilted works were filled with imagery expressing contemporary cultural values, such as folk legends (Tristan), heraldic devices and royal monograms (on bedcovers), and noral wreaths and fruits symbolizing good fortune and fertility (on wedding quilts). Contemporary versions, today often referred to commercially as "matelasse," are machine made and thus lack the intimate connections to the work represented by the confections of the original needleworkers - almost all of them presumably women.

The author of Marseille, Kathryn Berenson, has exhaustively researched tills fascinating story through a broad range of historical records, including household inventories, letters, commercial documents, and literary references. As Berenson muses in the richly illustrated monograph, referring to the two-thousand-year-old history of textile trade and production in Marseilles, "The current revival makes one wonder if the extraordinary properties of light along the Mediterranean coast - brilliant sunshine refracted in the prism of an azure sea - encouraged such magnificent textile sculpture."

  Summary of chapters, by A.Wanner
Since its founding in 600 BC Marseilles has been an entrepot for cotton, silk, wool textiles and during the 17th century the region's business people developed an interpretation of quilted needlework which seduced markets throughout Europe. For more than 200 years ships leaving Marseilles carried thousands of quilted and corded work, furnishings and garments made in port-city ateliers.
Corded needle work was called by various names as it developed. The term "broderie de Marseille" was first created in "l'art de brodeur" by Charles Germain de Saint Aubin in 1770. The term "trapunto" is frequently used to describe quilted work additionally stuffed with batting or cording, but it is only useful in an Italian context. In the United States the name was popular in the early 19th c. The french verb matelasser means to pad or to quilt, and the word "matelassé" may be a reference to a thickly woven textile.
Quilts were made to be used and used they were until they were used up. This means that there are only few surviving examples. However the author studied historical records such as: inventories, letteres, commercial documents and literary pieces. A keyword in old french documents is "courtepointe" written in different ways. It refers to "toiles piquées" where 3 layers - top and bottom fabrics with a filling in the middle - are joined together by a running or back stitch. The filling could be: batting, cording, recycled textiles. The quilted object can be a bedcover, a small throw, or a hanging. Today the terms Marseilles and Marseille are not dependable indication of the nature of the work in question.

Chapter 1: Inspriration from Norman Legend, Early European Needlework
Prime examples are the two known Tristan quilts in public institutions: one in the V+A London, the other in the National Museum of the Bargello in Florence. They show episodes from the Norman legend of Tristan and are attributed to a sicilian atelier about 1360 to 1400.

see also: Berenson, Kathryn. "Tales from the 'Coilte'". Retrieved 2010-02-08

The Tristan and Isolde Quilt. Accessed 7-02-2010

Tristan Quilt, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
No 1391-1904

Detail: Tristan and Morold
(shield with 3 fleurs de lys)

  A white quilted and corded-work coverlet dated as 16th c. german, in the Victoria and Albert Museum shows a pattern of octagons and diamonds, each holding a fantastic bird or beast. It relates to heraldic and religious eagles and lions, which can be found in 14h century manuscripts and also in some woven or embroidered european textiles from 14th to 16th c. The coverlet is made of two layers of linen, the geometrical figures are delineated by two rows of two-ply cotton cording. The figures are outlined in the back stitch against a background of tiny running stitches

German coverlet in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London,
with fantastic creatures

Detail of the German coverlet with a crested,
standing eagle with outstretched wings

  Chapter 2: Sea Change, Quilted Textiles in the 1600s
International trade with the Far East began in the early 1600s and from the first decades of the 17th c. ships sailed south around Africa's Cape of Good Hope. They sailed to India, Persia, China and Japan. Coffee, dye stuffs, porcelain, precious gems, spices, tea and textiles arrived in Europe.
Marseilles entrepreneurs met the challenge. Its "chambre de commerce" was organized in 1600 to promote new manufactures and international business. The corded and quilted furnishings and garments made as a refined alternative to the more plainly worked Quilts that arrived in Europe from the East. The production of broderies de Marseille was increased for export. In the middle of 17th c. about two percent of the citys population were confecting finery for home decor and wardrobes.

"Chauffoir", 17th century, 56 by 39 inches,
in the IQSC collection
(International Quilt Study Center & Museum),
one of the rare early examples
of broderie de Marseille in good condition

Bodice, cut about 1775, but probably
made from an earlier costume piece
similar piece in Musée de l'impression sur étoffes,
(inventory no 2005-0-3)

  Chapter 3: Prohibition and the Plague, Atelier Survival in the 1700s
Colbert invested time and energy to support industries in genral and Marseilles textile interests in particular. In 1669 the king gave Marseilles the status of a free port without entry and exit fees, open to all. By 1680 the number of needlewoker had doubled. About 40 to 50 thousand articles a year were exported to England, Hamburg, Holland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Wardrobe items (bodices, caps, petticoats, stomachers and wests, and above all bedcovers were produced. Heraldic arms were also used in corded and quilted textiles. Many documents of the times list their owners and places where they were used.
Colbert died in 1683. Backers of the silk industry persuaded the king to cut off the supply of foreign textiles and in October 26 1686 came the edict announcing this prohibition. Silk and cotton from any foreign source were prohibited. The materials were still used through royal privilege or as contraband. The prohibition was a disaster for Marseilles, several thousand persons stood to lose their source of sustenance. Petitions eventually succeeded and in 1688 entry of cotton from the Levant was allowed. But subsequently textile import privileges were variously expanded, withdrawn altogether and reconfirmed.
In May 1720 Marseilles suffered the Plague, which reduced the population of the town nearly by half. It also had severe and lasting consequences: the city suffered a lack of credit, commodities, expertise and labor. Cotton import levels were low during these Plague years, but they rose to levels higher than before. There was also royal support for prompt production recovery.
In this period motifs were worked in a bigger scale and spaced farther apart than on earlier examples. And there may be puffy and wrinkled unfilled areas between the motifs.
Pieces appear outside France, for instance in the Nordiska Museet in Stokholm with coat of arms of the family Ollonberg and the date 1729. It might have been ordered from France by Baron Carl Ollonberg (1677-1745). Other articles with open ground are found in the Netherlands (2 pairs of woman sleeves) and in a Geneva collection there is a christening cover stitched with crowned monogram motifs from Germany or Switzerland.

Center section of a bedcover
in the Nordiska Museet
in Stockholm, date 1729

Pair of women's sleeves, made 1700-1730,
imported Broderie de Marseille of Dutch imitation,
Open Air Museum, Arnhem, Inv. K3-1973


New works in broderie de Marseille combine Rococo imagery with stylized Indian elements. Probably these works were made not only in Marseilles, but also in ateliers in Provence and Paris. Marseilles still was successful in producing for both domestic use and export. Some pieces show fluid design elements that include scrolls, trailing fronds of open-petal blossoms, and serial borders worked with roundel-leaf fronds; entirely worked in running stitch on a fine percale top with more loosely woven cotton backing, allowing the introduction of cording. Several comparable pieces survived. All are made with analogous execution, materials scale and all show diamond grids within the overall design. The pieces travelled as well, examples exist in collections in the Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States as well as in France.
Production of this all-white work still carried the Marseilles name but was prodigious in other areas of Provence also, as may be traced in bridal trousseaus or inventories. The fashion for articles made in broderie de Marseille lasted throughout the 18th c. and Roland de Platière mentiones the work in his encyclopedia of the arts.

Bodice, as dozens of others in Provencal museums
and private collections,
made by needlewomen throughout the region

Stomacher 1730-60, found in Friesland,
the Netherlands


Man's at-home cap, about about 1710-30,
broderie de Marseille with running and back stitches,
2 layers of fine cotton, collection of IQSC

(International Quilt Study Center & Museum)

Detail of Stomacher, attributed to Britain,
corded quilting, drawn work, various white
embroidery stitches, 1730-40,
Victoria and Albert Museum, Inv. T.209-1929

  Chapter 4: Here, there and everywhere, Creative Imitations
Men wore quilted at-home caps throughout the Western world from the late 1600s to the early 1800s. Certainly some were stitched in Marseilles ateliers, but other workrooms obviously were also making them. Still carrying the marketable name "Marseilles" these embroideries were realized from Spain to Sweden, each country adding its personal touch. In German they were called "Piquéstickerei or Steppstickerei", and in England "cord quilting".
Some small purses kept in a Swiss Museum are made of cotton and are worked in corded work. Besides of the back stitch, the ground is speckled with tiny running stitches, and this is not found in Marseille atelier work. The purses are attributed to Germany or to Switzerland.
White corded work also was embellished with Dresden embroidery, which traditionally was worked on fine white cotton, to fashion collars, ruffles and trimmings. 18th c. Dresden work featured large imaginative flowers resembling those seen in printed textiles from India. Motifs were embroidered with various stitches: buttonhole, chain, satin and stem stitch. The examples support the notion that British needle women, most certainly professionals had carefully adapted the combination on broderie de Marseilles and Dresden embroidery technique for domestic sale and commercial export.
Colonial America: Articles of "French Quilting" variants in the British colonies seem not to have all come from the mother country - some colonist also made them for themselves. Documents prove that "French quilting" was taught in Boston in 1771. There were also illegal imports. From 1740 to 1780 british agents imported great quantities of textiles directly from Marseilles as Rambert wrote in his "histoire du commerce de Marseilles". Needlewomen in the new United States of America maintained the corded needlework aesthetic. From the 19th. c. onwards, together with floral motifs they also augmented quilts with figures such as shepherd and shepherdess beneath flowering trees.

Flat purse, made about 1750-70,
Musée historique de Lausanne, Inv. 271

Detail of man's waistcoat, attributed to Britain,
about 1730-40, in corded quilting, embroidered with
white linen and with some drawn work


Detail of border of wedding quilt, ca. 1830, IQSC
(International Quilt Study Center & Museum)
woman spinning on her spindle, her small dog frolics at her feet

mid 19th century Provençal bridal attire,
with white wedding petticoat worked in quiltung
and broderie de Marseille

  Chapter 5: Vive La Provence, A Return to Storytelling in the 1800s
At the turn of the century the design repertoire of broderie de Marseille articles expanded beyond baskets and vases of flowers and designs recalling important events. Imaginery in white corded needlework reflected an imaginative interpretation of history identity and place. The needlework technique remaind the same, but the scale became larger than previously, the cording inserted in design channels was of a larger diameter.
People with adequate means ordered weddidng quilts from local needleworkers, others stitched them at home. The skill of atelier workers is represented in several examples of wedding quilts in the middle of 19th c. After French Revolution the Provençales ladies returned to their traditional quilted petticoats. These Jupons were worn by brides and also for all fesitve occasions. They were made of fine fabrics and were stitched with ornate motivs.
Small infant lap-pieces protected mother's gowns from the drips and spills of their babies. The best ones were made in the broderie de Marseille technique. They featured imagery to auger good fortune.
By the 20st c. women had interest and concerns other than time-consuming needlework. Thy also had access to inexpensive manufactured goods and thy had sewing machines. Broderie de Marseille became a lost art until the late 1970s when atttention drawn to this needlework, tradition generated dozens of classes around France. The author closes her research work with the assumption that maybe it is the brilliant sunshine, the extraordinary properties of light that encouraged these magnificent textile sculpture and their reappearance.

Ceremonial Bedcover, IQSC collection
(International Quilt Study Center & Museum)

Infant lap piece owned by the IQSC,
a central grid of diamonds is filled with lozenges,
a stylized representation of a pomegranate,
dating from the late 1800s to the beginning of World War II,
when the cottage industry seems to have disappeared.
18,5 by 17,2 inches




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