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While skimming through Foyle’s Flavery a few days ago, I found interbastation, tucked in between inspissate (to thicken; to condense) and intercalate (to insert a day or month into the calendar to harmonize it with the solar year).

First impression: Ohmigosh, interbastation sounds like an arcane sexual practice.

Surprise. According to Christopher Foyle, the definition is “patchwork quilting.” The Oxford English Dictionary’s meaning is more abbreviated:”quilting,” it says, and notes that the word’s etymological origin is the French verb interbast-er, “to sew between (cotton, etc.) so as to keep in place; to quilt. The OED always categorizes its entries: interbastion is Obs. rare. 

I didn’t doubt its obscurity, but… was there a chance contemporary quilters might know the word? So, I signed on to Facebook: “I came across a weird word that has to do with quilting. Have any of you, my quilting friends, Toni, Yvonne, Judi, or Nann, heard of “interbastation?”

When you put something out on Facebook, others besides those tagged, respond. Edie said, “It sounds obscene.” Pam wrote, “I’m a quilter and I’ve never heard it…might make more people interested in the hobby. [Smiley face]. Lynne said, “It appears to be a synonym for quilting. Google it.”

Google or Wikipedia are starting points for most people. Interbastation as a search term yielded references to Wikipedia and the Free Dictionary, both of which redirected to “Quilting” with no mention of “interbastation.”

Wordnik gave the definition as “patchwork” and says that ‘interbastation’ has been looked up 455 times, chosen as a favorite once, added to 2 lists, and is not a valid Scrabble word. The online Free Dictionary also offered a list of typos, although I think they are alternative spellings. I decided that jnterbastation, knterbsation, underbastation, and ijterbastion held limited interest and were making spellcheck work overtime. Spell check has already suggested the replacement of interbastation with inner bastion.

More comments came in from my tagged friends. Judi said, “Well, you stumped me. I’ll have to check with some people who know more.” Toni wondered, “Where did you run into this word?” and Yvonne said “I might have to try to bring it back in style. ‘Watch me!’ she continued. “I’ll create a quilt pattern and name it interbastation, and tell everyone that they must hashtag it interbastation.” Nann who blogs about quilts at With Strings Attached, said “That’s a new one to me,” then reported later that “the preeminent quilt historian Barbara Brackman has never heard of interbastation.”

That answer did it for me; if Brackman didn’t know, who would? She has a long list of published books including Quilts from the Civil War, Barbara Brackman’s Civil War Sampler, Facts and Fabrications–– Unraveling the History of Quilts and Slavery. I became acquainted with her work when I was doing research at the Kansas Historical Society library in February.

The discovery that made me smile was the mug ($20.99!) above, a fine ceramic memorial for retired words, which prompts me now to return to my own brand of interbastation: stitching words of different colors, textures, and styles into a finished patchwork pattern.