Saturday, October 8, 2016

Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Appliqué is the art of applying shapes cut from a variety of fabrics onto a different background material. As a form of needle work, it can be traced back at least as far as the time of the Crusades, when knights wore appliquéd heraldic insignias.

An early 17th Century example of a Spanish appliqué cloth. Part of a cope (i.e. a long, loose cloak worn by a priest or bishop on ceremonial occasions) the figure of John the Evangelist is embroidered on satin and applied to a velvet background with additional gold thread decoration.

There is also evidence of a much earlier type of decorative appliqué dating back to the ancient Egyptians and Romans.

An intact Roman appliqué of Alexander The Great.

Excellent examples of appliqué, which have survived in good condition, can be found on many of the early embroidered Church vestments; the appliqué was worked in velvets and silks and embellished with gold and silver threads.

Gold-work vestments for St. Therese of Lisieux. The chasuble is made from cloth of gold, and the “pillar” on the front and the cross on the back are made from an ivory colored velvet, intricately worked over with gold-work embroidery. The velvet is from the dress Therese wore when she entered the Carmelite convent. The lace at the neck of the chasuble is from the veil Therese wore on that day.

Appliqué was also used to decorate wall hangings: often linen was richly embroidered and then applied to a background of heavy velvet.

Mystic Lotus II - Appliqué art wall hanging. Hand-stitched Egyptian Khayamiya.

The art traveled with the earlier settlers – from Europe to America. Some of the finest designs can be seen on coverlets and quilts of the period. Women employed every scrap of material to create fascinating patterns, which reflected their homes and surroundings. Sometimes these bedcovers were made up in sections, each decorated with a different appliqué design.

This appliqué quilt’s place of origin is easy to determine since two of the chintz cutouts depict the figure of Liberty and the American eagle. It forms part of a friendship quilt, completed in 1862.

Australia’s appliqué history extends from the early animal skin wraps worn by Aboriginal women in the southern areas of Australia to the work completed by Irish settler women. Celtic appliqué developed from the complex line drawing designs found carved on ancient stones found throughout Ireland. Such decorations were used on Irish step dancing costumes. The appliqués are usually made with bias tape. Stained glass appliqué uses bias tape to emulate leading in stained glass windows.

Australian contemporary appliqué quilt designs have been very much influenced by traditional English and American designs. Today contemporary textile artists are creating modern appliqué designs enriched with new themes and techniques. A popular trend amongst artists is to create decorative appliquéd panels with freehand machine embroidery as embellishment.

Quilt, “Australiana Victoriana”, appliqué and hand embroidered, silk/lace/ribbon/braid, Wendy Saclier, Canberra ACT (Australia) 1987.
Courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum.

Appliqué is still very popular today, since it relies more on imagination and creativity than sewing skills. It can be used to decorate furnishings and any number of garments, and is an ideal way of rejuvenating worn or old items.

Dolce & Gabbana lace appliqué dress.

San Blas or Reverse Appliqué
San Blas appliqué is worked by cutting away pieces of fabric and for this reason it is also known as reverse appliqué. The women of the San Blas Islands off the Panama coast are experts in this art: their bold and vividly colored designs represent gods, animals and plants, local personalities and sometimes loosely adapted and apparently meaningless English words and letters. These gay and stylized designs are made up into short sleeved blouses known as molas.

A fine example of a traditional San Blas appliqué, made up into a typical mola and worn by a native woman of the islands.

Originally when the Indians moved to the islands in the mid-19th Century, these molas were simple garments made from dark blue fabric with just a narrow single band of color around the bottom. It was the arrival of traders who supplied brightly colored fabrics that led to the development of the elaborate multi-layered designs that are worn today. Molas have become an important status symbol and as such are often included as part of a young girl’s marriage dowry.

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for sale at her home in San Blas islands.

Appliqué Designs

Chintz appliquéd quilt, ca. 1835, Made by Mary Malvina Cook Taft (American), Possibly Maryland, Virginia, or South Carolina, Cotton.
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Five Appliqués in the Shape of a Cross, ca. 600.
Langobardic; From Castel Trosino, central Italy. Gold; L. of largest cross 1 13/16 in. (4.6 cm). Purchase, 1895.
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tulip appliquéd panel, ca. 1883–87.
Candace Wheeler (American, 1827–1923), for Associated Artists (New York City, 1883–1907); ground fabric by Cheney Brothers (South Manchester, Connecticut, 1838–1955). Silk and metallic cloth appliquéd with silk velvet and embroidered with silk and metallic–wrapped cotton threads; 74 x 50 1/2 in. (188 x 128.3 cm). Gift of the family of Mrs. Candace Wheeler, 1928.
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Coat, ca. 1919. Paul Poiret (French, 1879–1944). Black silk and wool blend with white leather appliqués and white fur trim. Gift of Mrs. David J. Colton, 1961.
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The history of use of this coverlet is unknown, but the fragile condition of some of the fabrics suggests it was well used - or that the fabrics it is made of were well used before they were made up into the quilt.
The quilt was given to the museum by the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) in 1983. No information about its earlier ownership has been available from the RAHS.
Courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum.

Quilt, “Balnarring Banksias”, hand piecing and appliqué, cotton/homespun, Jennifer Lewis, Melbourne, Victoria, 1987.
Courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum.

Bonnet veil, Honiton bobbin lace appliqué on machine made net, cotton, Honiton, England, 1850-1900.
Courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum.

Dress, cotton, appliqué, maker unknown, Guaymi, Panama, 1970-1979.
Courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum.

[1] Editors A. Jeffs and W. Martensson and P. North, Creative Crafts Encdyclopedia, London (11984).

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