Broderie perse is a style of quilting that was very popular in the United States between 1775 and 1840. It is a form of fabric quilting versus quilting by pattern design, in that the design of printed fabric was cut out and sewn onto a solid colored background, with the cutouts becoming the decorative element.
This form of fabric quilting has its origins in India of the 1600s, when chintz, or painted, fabrics became fashionable. These “Persian” printed fabrics soon made their way to England, where they became popular there.
In fact, chintz fabrics made in India became so popular in England and other parts of Europe that textile manufacturers in England feared for their trade. They lobbied the government to ban the import of these popular fabrics, which didn’t eliminate them altogether, of course, but drove the price of them up so high only the aristocracy could afford them at black-market prices.
Not willing to do without the Persian chintz fabrics, women bought as much as they could afford and found ways to stretch the value of it as far as possible. Instead of using whole pieces of chintz to make bedcoverings, as had been frequently done before the ban, women carefully cut out each flower, urn, or other design element of the chintz and used them in appliqué fashion against a solid background of less expensive fabric.
It was in this way of fabric quilting that the medallion design for quilt patterns became popular. By placing the chintz appliqués in strategic places and artfully arranged, even a small swatch of chintz fabric could be used to embellish larger pieces.
Of course, the high cost of the chintz fabric made this a much-treasured form of fabric quilting. These pieces were never meant for everyday wear. Instead, they were reserved for special occasions, such as adorning the bed when special guests were staying over.
The trend for fabric quilting using this highly valued chintz fabric soon crossed the Atlantic and the quilters of the American colonies embraced the art of broderie perse with the same enthusiasm as did their English counterparts. In time, special quilting fabrics were made that featured designs specifically for cutting out and sewing onto quilts for all occasions.