Appliqué Center Medallion quilts are the product of creative resourcefulness. Although considered high-style quilts, their format was developed with cost in mind. Typically, these quilts feature broderie perse chintz appliqué on a white ground. White, unprinted cotton cost less than printed or dyed material. It also formed the perfect setting for the rich colors, images, and patterns of the printed chintz.
Traditionally, chintz is printed with deep-toned, multicolor, large-scale designs of flowers, birds, and blossoming branches. To best use the expensive fabric, quilt makers used an appliqué technique called "Persian embroidery." The quilter cut desired images from the printed fabric and sewed them to the ground fabric. Most often, the appliqués used the images exactly as printed on the fabric. Sometimes, however, quilters combined parts of flowers and leaves and overlapped them to create new forms such as swags or wreaths. Broderie perse appliqué encouraged the creation of innovative, sometimes fanciful, designs that are not possible with pieced work or other styles of appliqué.
Most Center Medallion quilts, whether appliqué or pieced, were made between 1820 and 1840. By about 1850, they were supplanted by repeat-block patterns. Most also seem to have originated in urban areas, especially in Philadelphia and Charleston, and were kept as best quilts for special occasions, not used as everyday bedcovers. Generally, a basket of flowers or a floral bouquet served as the central motif, although some excellent examples feature eagles. The floral imagery clearly came from Indian palampores.
Quilt makers often attached the appliqué using fine embroidery, did their quilting well, and, in the finest examples, included trapunto. These quilts are almost always large. It is not uncommon to find examples that measure 110in/2.8m square.
Quilt collectors who are especially interested in early fabric and quilting prize these quilts. The quilts' practicality is limited in that they are usually too large to hang on walls and too delicate to use as everyday bedcovers. Their beauty, however, and what they reveal about early 19th- century fabrics are unlimited.
The overall pattern of the cotton quilt above lacks the vibrancy of many examples. The design appears sparse, particularly when compared to the sample below.
Anna Catherine Hummel Markey Garnhart was an extraordinary quilt maker who is known to have made at least one quilt for each of her grandchildren. Twelve of her quilts have been located, and several are now in museums. The cotton quilt above was as well designed as it was crafted. It is full and well balanced; both the colors and the overall design contribute to the richness of the pattern.