Chintz Appliqué

The Jameses collected a number of quilts in the chintz appliqué style, a trend in the early nineteenth century that was inspired by the painted and printed cottons of India. Inventive American and European women imitated the look of costly Indian textiles by cutting and applying pieces of chintz to neutral backgrounds. Chintz, a polished cotton fabric printed with floral imagery in rich hues, came to Europe from India, first as a novelty, used initially as barter in the three-way trade for spices in the late 1500s.  It became a staple of well-furnished homes of the middle classes and gentry of England and France in the 18th century, used in quilts, bed hangings and upholstery. Recognizing the popularity of the bright printed cottons, British manufacturers learned the complicated dyeing and printing techniques and soon began shipping hundreds of yards of fabric to the American and European markets, leading to the development of a unique quilt style.

The earliest known chintz appliqué quilt dates from 1776. The majority of chintz appliqué quilts, however, were constructed in the 1820-1850 period and were primarily made in the Delaware Bay area of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The expensive chintz appliqué quilts acted both as a means of beautifying the home and as a status symbol—making such a large and time-consuming quilt indicated that its maker had both the funds to purchase the fabrics and the time to lavish upon its creation.

Many of the Jameses' chintz appliqué quilts were featured in the exhibition, Chintz Appliqué: From Imitation to Icon, and its accompanying catalog.