Black and White Quilt, ca. 1890

Quilts in Black and White

I have three inspirations for today’s blog, first I cannot help but be saddened by all of the violence and death in the news these last several months.  Noticing the flag at half staff in memory of fallen citizens and police officers has become such a normal part of my day that I wonder if the flag will ever go up to the top of the flag pole again.  Thinking about our nation’s mourning rituals led me to think of the black and white ‘mourning’ prints common in quilts of the 1890’s.  I also recently found the black and white quilt, above, which is made almost entirely of mourning prints from about 1890.  I thought that the quilt could easily be the source of inspiration for some of the contemporary quilts and fabrics I’ve recently seen in shows and online.

I am really excited to share with you some of my research regarding the 1890’s black and white fabrics and the resulting quilts.  To understand why these fabrics were called mourning prints it is necessary to look back into the history of the Victorian age and the customs relating to death. In 1861, Queen Victoria’s husband died of typhoid (as it was diagnosed at the time by his doctors) or, according to some recent research, un-diagnosed Crohn’s Disease (a disease which the Victorians did not know about).  After his death, the Queen fell into deep mourning.  At the time mourning rituals were strictly followed and, as Queen Victoria had strongly influenced fashion prior to Prince Albert’s death, so she also influenced mourning customs and fashions after his death.

Queen Victoria in Mourning Dress
Queen Victoria in Mourning Dress

In my very unscientific poll of fashion plates found with my browser’s search engine, I found that the number of black dresses increased steadily throughout the 1860’s, a time during which there was a great deal of loss of life here in the United States due to the Civil War and several epidemics, e.g. diphtheria (1870), cholera (1866), smallpox (1860-61), typhoid (1865) and yellow fever (1855, 2000 dead, and 1878, 20,000 dead).  In fact most of the men fighting in the war who died, did so, not as a result of hostile fire, but as a result of many of the diseases which ran unchecked in close and unsanitary living conditions.

The black dresses on the above fashion plates show mourning attire, the first plate was from 1866 and the second from 1885.  Note that although they are black dresses , they have many of the same embellishments, laces and ruffles as the more colorful dresses beside them.  The European fashion for mourning dress certainly made it across the Atlantic to the United States.  For example, in 1862 Mary Todd Lincoln’s mourning dress after the death of her son William Wallace Lincoln, from typhoid, is similar to that of Queen Victoria:

Mary Todd Lincoln, 1862.

Like Queen Victoria, after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 Mary Todd Lincoln wore black for the rest of her life.  Throughout the 1860’s, 1870’s, and 1880’s mourning fashions continued to become more and more complicated with additional stages to mourning and with articles of clothing required for each stage.  I can only imagine how expensive it must have become for families to progress from black wool, silks, and velvet with heavy crepe veils and then to half-mourning grays and lastly purples.  If a family could not afford the more expensive fabrics, they would re-work or over-dye older apparel.

In the 1890’s women’s fashion changed dramatically.  Dresses lost much of the crinoline, the bustle, and the extremes of dangerous corsets (although corsets did remain).  Although logwood with chromium was used as a black dye for silk and leather, most 19th century black dyes were very unstable, especially for cotton.  Before a stable black dye was developed for cotton, madder or indigo was used to dye fabric as close to black as the dyer could make it, usually with toxic mordants and over-application of dye–making very, very dark blue or brown.  These ‘blacks’ were subject to crocking (rubbing off), fading, and the strong mordants caused fabric to disintegrate over time.  In 1890 a new black dye suitable for cotton was introduced onto the market and its use soared.  Here is an advertisement for cotton sateen from the 1893 Montgomery Ward catalog:

Untitled-1

Mourning and half-mourning became more affordable for everyone and the number of black and white calico fabrics increased.  Women used these calicos for aprons (see photos below found here), shirtwaists (blouses), and dresses which could stand up to repeated washing and hard work.

Unfortunately, although the new black dye appeared to be stable, we now know otherwise:  it was made with a compound containing sulfur, and, when washed, the sulfur in the dye combined with water and became sulfuric acid.  The sulfuric acid did not appear to cause harm to the wearer, but it is one of the reasons why we see this type of fabric disintegrating in the places where it was printed with black.

IMG_1941

The black and white (with a little tan) quilt is made with blocks named St. Paul, published by Hearth and Home, according Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.  The magazine was printed between 1895 and 1930.  I love how the blocks are arranged in the quilt to create a secondary lattice pattern which helps the eye move around the quilt.  The fabrics are typical of mourning prints, and I don’t believe the quilt was washed frequently because all of the fabrics are intact with little to no signs of disintegration.  Here are some other examples of mourning prints:

e257e042797053c18cdd9aae658e1881

If you feel inspired to make a black and white quilt,  I’ve collected a very partial and somewhat random assortment of fabric collections below:

I couldn’t resist showing you this eerie shot of the quilt.  Today we have scorching temperatures and very high humidity, when we went outside to take the photos the lens of my camera fogged up.  I did not notice until after I took this shot.

IMG_1937

I’m going to think of this as my ‘ghost’ quilt.  If you have any vintage or antique quilts which haven’t been appraised please contact me thru the website.  I have appraisal appointments available in my schedule.

Have a quilty day!!

Lovelli Signature

IMG_1933

On the longarm today….An Antique Quilt top.

Each quiltmaker trusts me to enhance their quilt with quilting.  I feel both blessed to have that trust and a bit nervous as well.  I feel the nerves especially when receiving a vintage or antique top to complete.  I collaborate with my client to make several decisions about an antique/vintage top:

  • Is the fabric sturdy enough to stand up to the machine needle and thread?  Are the seams put together well? Are there areas on the quilt top which need to be mended?
  • Would the quilt top’s value as a historical artifact decrease if quilted?  If so, can I do something to stabilize it so that it’s structure will last?
  • Which quilting design would both respect the time period in which the top was completed and give a nod to today?  Many times economic factors prevent people having vintage/antique quilts from being custom quilted, is there a less expensive alternative which would still respect the original time period?

The quilt maker, who gave me this beautiful redwork quilt to finish, found these beautiful blocks among her grandmother’s things, including the block labeled 1932.  It is such a wonderful block to include in this quilt because it documents when the blocks were made along with the family history regarding the blocks and the maker.

IMG_1934

Redwork embroidery became popular just as the fad for crazy quilts was waning during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Women entrepreneurs contributed to the spread of its popularity, both as pattern designers and pattern markers.  Mothers frequently purchased ‘penny’ squares, squares of cotton with a stamped design, to practice embroidery skills or to give to their children for practice.  As the 20th century progressed, designs were distributed in collections, such as States, Presidents, State Birds and Flowers, Fairy Tales, Colonial, and, of course, Sunbonnet Sue.  People collected the blocks and then placed them in quilts.  You can see more red work examples here.  There are also blue work quilts, embroidered with blue thread, over many of the same designs.

I chose to do a ‘Baptist’ (or ‘Lutheran’ or ‘Methodist’) fan pattern and quilted right on top of the embroidery.  Fortunately, I could quilt through the embroidery because it laid flat and tight to the background.    The fan pattern was frequently used was a very popular design during the 1930’s and throughout history.  It is one of the easiest patterns for a hand quilter to do because it requires little, to no, marking.  One simply uses the elbow as a pivot point on a compass to form the fan shape:Fan drawingTo hand quilt a fan start in the position indicated by the light pink forearm in the image above, continue moving the forearm, with the elbow fixed in place, until the forearm is in the position of the dark pink forearm.  Tie off the thread, move your elbow (stretching helps) and then place the elbow and arm to do the next line of stitching.  Machine quilting a fan is a little bit trickier because it involves either multiple tie-offs or tracing previously stitched lines.  On a domestic machine you can mark one of the fan lines and then use a walking foot to quilt it.  For subsequent lines in the fan use the walking foot guide to keep lines spaced correctly.  On my longarm the fan design requires a little extra set up and a quilt top which is square so that it begins and ends at the same points from side to side of the quilt.

Here is a last look at the darling bunny on the quilt.  I wonder if he will share those carrots?

IMG_1936

Have a quilty day!!

lovelliquilts.wordpress.com

IMG_1926

On my longarm today…Scaling quilting designs

IMG_1911

I love quilting baby quilts and this sweet pattern with small Churn Dash blocks is no exception.  I wanted the quilting to reflect the vintage pattern and the retro feel of the fabric.  The blocks were 6 inches square, which is about half the size of a standard block (12″).  It would look funny if a quilting pattern designed for a 12″ block was used on a 6′ block.  In my software, Creative Studios 6, I was able to preview the quilting design.

Capture 1

 

In the first example, the Butterfly and Flower design by Kim Diamond, is shown on the quilt top as if it were stitched out with the default size of 12″, notice how large the flowers of the quilting design are compared to the size of the block, and the individual pieces which make up the block.  In addition, the size of the flowers in the quilting design are approximately 10 times larger compared to the size of the flowers in the fabric.

Capture 2

In the second example, the quilting is denser, but it is also more in scale with the block size and the scale of the prints.  I much prefer being able to preview how my quilting is going to look on my computer monitor and then hitting ‘undo’ than to quilt something out which I don’t like and taking my seam ripper out to undo it!

The finished quilt had a soft, ‘quilty’ look and feel–just perfect to wrap a baby!!

Have a quilty day!!

Lovelli Signature

 

IMG_1885

On my Longarm today….Ditching

IMG_1885Ditching, or stitching in the ditch (SID), refers to quilting with stitches that are placed precisely in the seam.  SID comes from garment sewing where it is used in shoulder and collar seams to strengthen the seam and tame seam allowances.  It is a skill which I’ve practiced ever since I began quilting.  I started ‘ditching’ as a hand quilter, tried it a few times (not very successfully) on my domestic sewing machine, and I find it a necessary part of my repertoire as a longarm quilter.  The wonderful applique quilt on my longarm today has given me lots of practice with stitching in the ditch. The technique is an excellent way to stabilize the quilt, especially between borders or around applique.  It also shows off precise piecing and applique.IMG_1906

Good stitching in the ditch should disappear into the quilt.  In the photo above, at very high magnification, my stitches with a white thread disappear into the quilt.  The only thing that one can see is that the seam has definition and depth.

To SID choose a thread which is thin (I like 50 or 60 weight), with a color that blends well with the colors of the fabrics which are seamed together or a mono-filament thread.  Although many quilters love mono-filament for ditching, I prefer a matte thread in a blending color because I don’t like the shine of a polyester thread.  Although I have seen a shiny thread ditched in a star block which made the star appear to sparkle–gorgeous.

IMG_1897

Notice that the needle goes directly into the little ‘ditch’ next to the seam.  Perfect SID starts with piecing the quilt top.  It is necessary to make sure that you have a plan for pressing each seam and are consistent.  Do not have the seam allowance flip between seam intersections.  A top which is paper foundation pieced can be ditched because they are sewn and pressed consistently.

IMG_1899

To SID, I draw the seams on my computer with the quilting machine head, then I start the sewing machine.  This leaves my hands free to gently pull the seam  slightly apart as the machine quilts, making the ‘ditch’ larger and an easier target to hit.  If the seams don’t match perfectly at intersections, then my ditching will follow those unmatched ditches.  I find that concentrating solely on the needle gives me a version of ‘highway hypnosis’ so I usually focus my eyes on the ditch slightly before it goes under the needle.  I need to remind myself to take frequent breaks.  Eyes, neck, shoulders, back, and elbows get tired from this type of intense work.

 

 

SID quilting is necessarily slow work but it also has a meditative quality which I enjoy and it makes lovely quilts!!!

Please have a lovely and safe 4th of July, celebrate our country, enjoy your family and remember those who have fallen in service so that we may live free.

lovelliquilts.wordpress.com

 

 

IMG_1879

On the Longarm today–a cup of Kaffe Fassett coffee

It is so much fun to quilt a quilt with beautiful color and fabric.  This lovely design is by Virginia Robertson Designs and it uses Kaffe Fassett fabrics with a purple Grunge background.  The challenge for me as a quilter was to make the applique stand out and to let the fabric be the star.

`IMG_1879

I used double 80/20 Cotton/Polyester batting because I wanted the applique to pop out of the surface of the quilt.  I stitched in the ditch around the cups, handles and saucers.  I wish I had a magic wand which makes ‘ditching’ easier.  However, the real trick to getting the needle and stitches to go in the tight indentation between applique and background  is concentration and patience.  The next thing is to choose the right thread color.  Before starting to quilt I auditioned several thread colors:IMG_1867There are 4 different threads here–the first two are Superior So Fine, the next is Isacord and the last one is Aurifil.  I didn’t like the first and last because the purple was too red and they were really dark, I thought that they would fight with the maker’s fabric choices. The second one was too light and obvious on all the fabrics, although, if the quilt was going to be about the quilting it would have been a good choice.  The Isacord won–I had some trepidation about using it because I had never used on my longarm, but it worked beautifully and I had zero tension issues.

My next challenge was to find a quilting design which would make the background recede and would give it texture in a relevant way.  I found a coffee bean design by Mike Fountain at Intelligent Quilting.  I think it works really well as a background ‘meander’.

IMG_1875IMG_1874

I would love to have one of those cups filled with coffee every morning!!

Lovelli Signature

 

20160615_172434

On the Longarm today…

Today I had the privilege of quilting this wonderful table runner.  In the midst of quilting larger quilts, quilting something smaller is refreshing.  The first thing I liked about the runner are the wedge shapes, straight lines and circles.  The fabrics included some tone on tones, some text, and some small prints.

20160615_160915

I kept all of these things in mind, as I looked for a quilting design.  I found this design, by Cyndi Herrman which came with my Statler Stitcher, called ‘Circles and Lines’:

wedge runner 2

On the quilt top the mock-up shows the circles and the straight lines of the quilting design, but I wasn’t sure that I liked it.  Next, I adjusted the design slightly keeping straight lines and circles, but changing the regular straight lines to create more wedge-like shapes.

Wedge runner

I felt like this design complimented the top and gave the quilt design more movement.  I chose a light gray color thread which blended into the fabrics and the following is the result:

20160615_172434

The quilting provides texture to the top and accents the design.

20160615_172443

Have a quilty day!!!