ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Quilting in the Middle Ages

Updated on December 23, 2009

A Chapter in Quilting History

Did quilting exist in Medieval Europe? The answer is yes, but that is just about the only thing that is certain, and as such it is different from what we consider quilting to be today. Because quilted items were made to be used and because fabric is a fairly fragile medium susceptible to damage from vermin, light, and body oils there are few existing examples of quilting that have survived over the centuries. Therefore, most of what we do know is derived from surviving artwork. For example, if you look at the man at the far left of this image, you can see that he is wearing a quilted garment under his breastplate. In this lens, I introduce you to what we do know about the quilting process during the Middle Ages.

Image from St Ursula Shrine, 1489; Gilded and painted wood, Memlingmuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges

Bayeux Tapestry, 11th century
Bayeux Tapestry, 11th century

What are the Middle Ages?

The term Middle Ages generally refers to the time period in Europe and Great Britain between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance, approximately 500 - 1500 A.D./C.E. (Christian Era) and is considered by many to have been the "Dark Ages" of Europe. At first glance, this may appear to be true because no longer were the classical sculptors and artists creating works of art such as the Venus di Milo.

Much of the fabric of European life became religious in nature as Christianity spread throughout western and eastern Europe. In October of 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England and is now remembered as William The Conqueror. The Holy War and the first of the Crusades began in 1095 with the objective of returning the Holy Land to the control of the church. These Crusades sent many men far away from their homelands to those foreign and exotic. The latter centuries became the age of chivalry, of courtly love. The 12th and 13th century troubadours of France sang the virtues of love in the well known Roman de la Rose as well as many others. Much of the art and literature of the times was produced under the auspices of the church.

The Image is a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry dated to the 11th century that depicts the battle between the English and Norman forces in October of 1066.

Quilted Medieval Bedding

There are two different types of quilted items that were made during the Middle Ages; those made as bed coverings and items made to be worn under armor. First I will discuss the quilts that were used for bedding. As mentioned previously, there are few surviving examples of quilted items so much of our information is derived from written or artistic descriptions of quilted items. In a 12th century French poem La Lai del Desire the author mentions a "quilt of two sorts of silk cloth in a checkboard pattern, well made and rich" (Quilting, Colby, 1971).

It appears from later examples that Medieval quilts or coverlets generally consisted of two layers of whole fabric that were stitched together in a decorative or figural pattern with selective stuffing rather than a whole layer of batting in between. One such example is the Tristan quilt shown here that depicts scenes from the story of Tristan and Isolde. This is one of three surviving examples that were made in Sicily at the end of the fourteenth century. These quilts were made of linen and only stuffed in selected areas after the decorative stitching was completed.

Image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum collection

Quilted Medieval Garments

There are numerous artistic representations of quilted garments being worn under and over battle armor during the Middle Ages. It makes perfect sense that quilted garments would be used this way because the padded nature of the quilted garments grants not only warmth but comfort to the wearer. You can imagine how cold and sharp the chain mail and plate would feel against your skin. I can imagine that it wasn't very comfortable to say the least. The image shown here is the Coat Armor (jupon) of Charles VI of France, from the late 14th century (image courtesy of the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds)

To learn more about the history of textiles, start here...

The History of the Patchwork Quilt: Origins, Traditions and Symbols of a Textile Art
The History of the Patchwork Quilt: Origins, Traditions and Symbols of a Textile Art
The origins, traditions and symbolism of patchwork in clothing and quilts are explored from multi-national examples over the past 500 years. This classic book now in its first English edition traces quilts across Europe and Asia and through the growing textile industry of North America. Color and black-and-white photographs show beautiful applique and Amish quilts as well as crazy-quilts, bridal and friendship quilts and more. Examples represent historical and contemporary prize-winning designs. The author provides an extensive bibliography in hopes that it will foster more extensive research into the interesting background of patchwork art. Quilt collectors, dealers, and makers, as well as textile artists and designers will find interesting explanations of the designs. They will also find inspiration for their own work in this beautiful book.
Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-1450 (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London) (Volume 4)
Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-1450 (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London) (Volume 4)
Among the most evocative items to be discovered by archaeologists are the scraps of silk and wool and other fabrics that signal so eloquently their owner's status and concerns. This highly readable account will be of wide general interest; dress historians and archaeologists will also find a wealth of new insights into the fashions, clothing and textile industries of medieval England and Europe.

Do you enjoy learning about the Middle Ages? Would you want to live back then?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago from Canada

      It really is surprising how many items we still use today that began so very long ago. Our needs really have not changed that very much from the middle ages have they now?

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 

      9 years ago from Central Florida

      I certainly never would have thought of quilts during that period if I hadn't run acros this site. Unique. Added to the quilting squidoo angel lens.

    • Louis Wery profile image

      Louis Wery 

      10 years ago from Sarasota, Florida USA

      Very interesting examination of a textile craft during a historical period.

    • HorseAndPony LM profile image

      HorseAndPony LM 

      10 years ago

      This was a great lens. I loved the section on Quilted Medieval Garments.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      10 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      Very nice lens, I enjoyed learning about the medieval quilts. 5* and Blessed.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      10 years ago from UK

      This is very interesting. I wouldn't want to live then but a quick visit might be nice! :-)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice work on Medieval Quilting. Middle Age living was too rough for me. Blessed.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      10 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I wouldn't have wanted to live in the Middle Ages either. Am too addicted to modern creature comforts :D. Interesting that little history survived about quilts from the era of the Middle Ages. Your research is, as always, very thorough. Well done.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image


      10 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Thank you for sharing all your knowledge of quilting, it is so fascinating!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I would NOT have wanted to live in the Middle Ages. I do enjoy Renaissance Fairs, though. I learned some things here. 5*


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)