Quilted fabrics and boutis instinctively evoke Provence where women of yesteryear walked around in quilted petticoats and colorful caracos. Today, this heritage still contributes to the identity of Provence. There is not a village without a store where you can find these marvels.


The collections Eternel été and Joie de vivre revisit this tradition. Offering the opportunity to discover the secrets of this delicate needlework through the Maison's heritage collection.  

The Origins

Coming from the East, the oldest quilts were brought back in the eleventh and twelfth centuries by the crusaders who found them particularly suitable to protect themselves from the cold and from the contact of their armors. In Europe, Naples and Sicily were the first important manufacturing centers for these luxurious products. 


Marseille, whose port was turned towards trade with the Levant and Italy, was a gateway for these fabrics.  King René (1409-1480), who administered both the kingdom of Naples and the county of Provence, encouraged the transmission of this transalpine art called Trapunto.


As early as the 14th century, Italian embroiderers settled in Marseille and set up small workshops at home. Phocaean productions were a flourishing success and spread throughout the kingdom. In the 17th century, five to six thousand professional embroiderers making every year between 40,000 and 50,000 pieces of raised white-work or embroidery (petticoats, coverlets, chauffoirs, layette pieces). Although other production centers exist, the pre-eminence of Provence is undeniable. 

An organized profession

Since the end of the 13th century, two guilds share, with the rivalries that it induces, this needlework technique: the quilters have the privilege of lining, stuffing, wadding and stitching fabrics. The embroiderers carry out the finest work such as embroidery with crimped cords. Grouped in workshops of various sizes, men or women with skilled hands made Provence renowned in the 17th to 19th centuries. 

Two types of production came out of these workshops: raised white-work and quilted fabrics, used for both home and clothing. In parallel to these structures, this art is also practiced within the family for the less well-to-do. A young bride's trousseau would not be complete without a "petassoun" or a quilted blanket. 


Also known as "Marseille embroidery", it owes its name to the needle used to insert the cotton strands. Two cotton sheets are stretched on a loom. The design is transferred to the fabric placed on the top. The embroiderers follow this design by stitching small front stitches of white thread. Each element of the decoration is sewn separately: stem, flower, arabesque.


Once the embroidery of all the contours is completed, the frame is turned over and strands of cotton of varying thickness are inserted between two stitches in the channels to create the relief. For larger shapes, such as dragees, wadding can be used. This technique brings, moreover, a great flexibility and a great solidity to the domestic products.


The most beautiful pieces play on different heights of relief, highlighting certain elements of the decoration. True masterpieces, these pieces of fabric are similar to carved bas-reliefs.


Offered at weddings or christenings, raised white-work present a codified iconographic repertoire of flowers, rosettes, hearts, plant garlands and crowns. A true language of signs understood by all, it is transmitted from generation to generation. Seeds are signs of abundance, the heart refers to love, and doves in a basket evoke a home that is being built. This symbolism is not specific to the work of boutis: it is also found on painted or carved Provencal furniture. 


This technique requires a certain dexterity, both in the transfer of the line on the fabric with chalk and in the tension of the thread, which must remain uniform during the whole process.


One or more layers of stuffing are enclosed between two fabrics, all held together by a network of front stitches, handmade with cotton thread. The quilted lines offers an additional cachet to the pieces made but it is the fabric used that makes the value, unlike the raised white-work. Silk, cotton fabrics, paisley shawls are enhanced by this technique.


The fabrics used come from all over the kingdom, Jouy, Nantes, Alsace but also from the East and India. They are exchanged in Marseille or at the Beaucaire fair.


Quilts or petticoats generally have a fairly simple design, consisting of lines of stitches parallel to the edges, a single or double grid, diamond-shaped, made in the technique of front-stitch. This is the basic stitch in sewing. The border is often more elaborate, with a network of interlaced curves.


To highlight the fabric used, the embroiderers use the "window composition". This arrangement features two fabrics on the right side. A plain fabric frames the center one, either shaped, embroidered or printed. It is also chosen when the embroiderers use a square or scarf originally intended to cover the shoulders.


The charm of quilted bedspreads lies in the combined use of different fabrics for the front and reverse sides. Intended to be completely hidden or partially seen, the less expensive fabrics are used on the reverse side. 


Linen cloth: Its robustness is particularly suitable for the elaboration of the elements composing the bed spread (quilt, mantling). It maintains flexibility and gives body to the beautiful prints chosen on the visible side. 


Woodblock printing: For the unique pieces handled regularly, the embroiderers used fancy fabrics with small geometric or floral designs, printed by woodblock in 2 or 3 colors. The Indian “chafarcanis”, woodblock printed fabrics in one or two colors, were very popular in the 18th century because they were part of the "entry-level" Indian fabrics. 


Cylinder printing: From the 19th century, cylinder prints produced in larger quantities replaced woodblock.


The “piqué” is a fabric which owes its relief to its weave and not to a quilting obtained by a needlework.


It became widespread during the second half of the 19th century. It is then called “padded quilting" in reference to the quilted models that it imitates. Often white cotton, it is decorated with small geometric patterns and was long used in lingerie before gaining the world of decoration.


At the same time, the generalization of the use of the sewing machine also mechanizes the work of quilting. Made to order, that is to say to the shape of the piece, it participates little by little in the industrialization of its production.


In the 20th century, the development of a powerful textile engineering revolutionizes the industrial quilting of which Puzzle or Cocoon of the Boussac collection are the result.

To know more about quilts of Provence: 
M. Biehn, En jupon piqué et robe d’indienne, Costumes provençaux, Jeanne Lafitte Edition
Collectif, Piqué de Provence, couvertures et jupons de la collection André-Jean Cabanel, Edisud
C. Fauque, Couleurs & étoffes, une passion provençale, Aubanel
A. Fiette (sous la direction de), L’étoffe du relief, quilts, boutis et autres textiles matelassés, Somogy Edition
K. Berenson, Quilts of Provence. The Art and Craft of French quiltmaking, Henry Holt & Co, 1996
C. Eddy, Quilted planet : a source book of quilts from around the world, Mitchell Beazley, 2005

Discover the Pierre Frey Heritage brochure: Quilts of Provence