Provence is a region in the south of France which borders Italy and the Mediterranean Sea. ProvenÁal quilts, also known as boutis quilts, matelassage, piq˚re de Marseilles, Marseilles work, marcella, or piquÈ marseillais traditionally hail from this region and all involve some sort of stuffing between two thin layers of embroidered linen. The Italian term trapunto is also in this group. The technique was exceptional in that it gave texture and form to very fine material.
The art form dates back to medieval times and has it origins in Sicily. The oldest example of boutis is the Tristan Quilt, executed some time around 1395. In France, the earliest known examples of boutis pop up in the 1470s. The city of Marseilles, home of the Count of Monte Cristo, was an extremely important port city, and it attracted embroiderers from Sicily. Embroidery workshops were formed which remained in operation until the French Revolution of 1789 when the factories were raided and shut down.
In the late 18th century, a version of the technique became popular amidst Lancashire cotton artisans in a specific weaving technique named marcella, a variation of “Marseilles.”
Boutis, a term that is used synonymously with ProvenÁal quilting, was reborn in the 19th century but died out at the beginning of the 20th century, as it was too expensive to produce. It was rediscovered in the later part of the century by enthusiasts.
The final product is achieved by bringing together two fine linens with one pattern. Generally, bastite makes up the top layer. It is the softest of the lightweight opaque fabrics and is made of cotton, wool, polyester or a blend. The embroidery involves tight backstiching and very careful handiwork. Small bits of cotton are inserted between sections of the design, creating relief or a raised effect. When held up to light, the boutis quilt will reveal shadows where the stuffing has taken place.
A variation of the technique called corded quilting or piquÈ marseillais involves stretching two layers of fabric, intricately stiched together using backstich or running stitch, and later threaded with fine cord or rolled fabric to create the raised effect.
Most ProvenÁal quilts depict images and symbols from nature, religion, family heraldry, and sometimes even scenes from life.
Related Posts: The Oldest Quilt in the Western World: The Tristan Quilt
Further Reading: A Paradise of Boutis