This article's introduction may be too long for the overall article length. Please help by moving some material from it into the body of the article. For more information please read the layout guide and Wikipedia's lead section guidelines.(February 2012)
A patchwork quilt is a quilt in which the top layer consists of pieces of fabricsewn together to form a design. Originally, this was to make full use of left-over scraps of fabric, but now fabric is often bought specially for a specific design. Fabrics are now often sold in quarter meters (or "yards" in the U.S.). (A "fat quarter" is one square meter folded into four and cut along the folds, thus giving a square piece of fabric 50 cm on a side, as opposed to buying a quarter of a meter off the roll, resulting in a long thin piece that is only 25 cm wide).
Designs can be geometric and formal or imaginative. Patchwork blocks were initially created individually, accumulated over time, by use of scrap and salvaged material. Geometric designs were the most efficient way to aggregate fabric into useful units. Applique, where a piece of fabric is layered on top of the a base or "ground" fabric and then the cut edges are folded under and sewn down, is not limited to simple geometric designs. Early uses of applique in the United States included efforts to expand the effect of expensive, imported European fabrics in early America. The dense printed patterns were cut out, spread apart on a background of plain fabric, allowing the effect of the rare fabric to spread further. Broderie perse is a related techique, where selections of printed fabric are cut out, and sewn in place to produce the effect of a custom printed cloth. Reverse applique involves cutting the ground fabric, and placing another fabric beneath the opening. The raw, cut edges are folded under, and sewn onto the smaller piece of fabric below, creating a new design.
The quilt is formed of three layers: the patchwork, a layer of insulation wadding (batting) and a layer of backing material. These three layers are stitched together ("quilted"), either by hand or machine. The quilting can either outline the patchwork motifs, or be a completely independent design, for when quilting, the design may not necessarily follow the patchwork design, and the design of the quilting may play off the patchwork design. Outline quilting is when the pieces of the pattern are outlined by the quilting stitches. Additional design options are provided by quilting techniques that alter the texture of the quilt. These include: trapunto (where additional batting is stuffed into a discrete section of the quilting), cording (where cotton cording or yarn are pulled between quilting lines that form channels), and stipple quilting (where dense, closely spaced quilting causes the batting to be more compressed than it is in adjacent areas). Another, more casual option is to "tie" the quilt. Heavy thread or yarn is used to tie all three layers together at points across the surface of the quilt.
The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. Please improve this article and discuss the issue on the talk page.(December 2010)
Quilting was a very popular early American pastime, particularly in the Midwest, where quilting circles were a common social pastime for women. Annual town fairs generally included a quilting bee, to award excellence in quilting. Handmade quilts were a very common wedding gift for young couples, and were often mentioned specifically in wills due to their sentimental significance. It was not uncommon, in early American culture, for quilts to reflect a mosaic of a woman's life, often including swatches of material from memorable events such as pieces of a wedding gown or a child's baptismal garment. The Amish people are famous for their geometric patchwork designs with independent patterns and quilting; typical motifs include floral designs and heart shapes. The Amish and Mennonite women of the Pennsylvania Dutch country have been creating exquisite quilted masterpieces since the mid-19th century (and some believe even earlier). Amish quilts are an expression of frugality. They not only serve a practical, functional purpose, but serve as a form of entertainment as well.
In 1987 in San Francisco, the Names Project commenced as a memorial to the lives of people who died from AIDS and related diseases with quilt panels made by loved ones. Also known as the AIDS Quilt, it grew to comprise many thousands of panels, and spawned similar projects in countries around the globe. In later years, other subject- and event-specific community-based quilts have been created.