Who Made Palampores?
An inscription on the palampore example shown here indicates it was quilted by a member of the Quane family on the Isle of Mann in the Irish Sea. The Quane piece’s quilting suggests it was likely a coverlet, but palampores also were status symbols, coveted and often quilted by women of means. They tend to be very large (one in the IQSCM collection is nearly 11 feet square), suggesting that the owner had plenty of space in which to quilt and display it.
The palampores made in India were created using a mordant, which is a substance used to fix dyes to fibers—literally a glue that holds the dye to the fabric. Because cotton has no natural affinity to dyes, a mordant is required for cotton dyeing. Europeans had no knowledge of this technology until the mid-18th century, so the fabrics imported from India were especially striking for their rich hues and ability to retain their colors. The designs were applied by a combination of block printing and hand-painting. Some colors could be applied by block printing, but indigo, used to produce blues and applied over yellow to produce green, quickly becomes fixed on the fabric when it reacts to oxygen and had to painted on by hand.
Palampores were typically found in upper-middleclass homes. As families moved away from rural areas and into cities, women’s lives changed dramatically. No longer were they required to spend every waking hour growing their own food, raising animals, etc. This change created a consumer economy and these consumers, usually the women of the house, followed fashion in much the same way that consumers do today.
Photo courtesy of International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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