It’s important to look at the whole quilt. This lovely pink and green appliqué quilt looks like it has some fabric toning and perhaps some wear. However, if we turn it over we can see considerable water damage and stains:
These stains are difficult, if not impossible, to remove and will affect the quilt’s value. Frequently, condition issues, such as staining, holes, or wear, are easier to see on the back of a quilt.
It is also easier to see the quilting on the back of the quilt–like the concentric circles and echo lines. We can also see the quality of the quilting stitch, especially when the backing is a solid.
I love to look at the front of a quilt closely–the small stitches, the seams that match, the workmanship and artistry which go into the small things. However, if a quilt is only looked at closely the visual impact of the quilt is not truly seen.
The pictures above are close-ups of a blue and white quilt. The block above is called Fly Foot. It looks fairly simple to construct–a half square triangle pinwheel and some bars. Blue and white is one of the most popular color combinations in quilts. From the closeup photos of this quilt it could be difficult to date–indigo solids have been produced for centuries. Now look below at the whole quilt:
Wow! No longer is it just another blue and white quilt. The movement and pattern of the blue lines give the quilt energy and make the eye move around the quilt. So many blue and white quilts are tranquil and serene–not this one!!
John Hewson was one of the early calico printers in America. He learned the craft of wood block printing while working at Bromley Hall near London. Benjamin Franklin, while in London acting as an agent for the colonies, met John Hewson and was asked by Hewson’s family to take him to the new world. According to his daughter, Sarah Alcock, John Hewson had did not believe in the divine right of kings, which could have made life difficult for him in England. In 1773, he immigrated to Philadelphia with his family and some smuggled printing equipment. At the time it was illegal to take printing equipment out of England. He set up a calico printing factory in 1774 and began printing high quality and well sought after textiles.
He is well known for his wood block printed vases. This style of printing uses a carved wood block to apply dye or mordant to a fabric. Then the fabric is dyed, typically with madder or indigo. Additional detail is added to the fabric by hand brushing (a technique known as ‘penciling’) dyes (or mordants). The resulting textile is beautifully detailed and was prized by colonials. Among his customers were George and Martha Washington.
John Hewson joined the 1st Republican Grenadiers in 1775 and when the group disbanded, organized his own militia. When the British captured Philadelphia in 1777, Hewson was forced to flee with his household, and some of his printing equipment. The British ransacked and destroyed much of his factory. Hewson was captured by the British in New Jersey and spent some time in jail until he escaped to rejoin the cause. After the war he rebuilt his factory and it remained in business until about 1820.
The printed calicoes or ‘chintz’ were often reclaimed after being used in dresses and petticoats. The dress below is a 1780 fashion with an Indian chintz from the Coromandel coast.
A quilt’s center medallion was made from a whole design or motifs from the chintz were placed using appliqué onto a background, a technique known as ‘broderie perse.’ In many of these quilts from the late 18th and early 19th century motifs from the chintz which forms the center medallion are repeated in the outer borders.
I had a wonderful yo yo growing up and loved doing tricks with it. Did you know that there are pictures of yo yo’s on a Greek vase from 500 b.c.e.? In 1928 the Yo Yo Manufacturing company was founded by a Filipino immigrant to the United States. He made several key improvements to the toy which made performing tricks like “walking the dog” possible.
The origin of the yo yo comforter is found in the rosettes men and women of fashion wore to decorate clothing in the 17th and 19th centuries. At some point during that time period they were also renamed Suffolk Puffs, apparently because the frugal people of Suffolk, England would reuse scraps of fabric to make them, sometimes stuffing the gathered fabric circles with wool. Yo yo quilts became very popular during the 1930s, I’m assuming that the name changed in the U.S. due to the popularity of the circular toy. A quick search of the Quilt Index found that nearly three quarters of the yo yo comforter’s documented were dated around 1930.
A yo yo spread/comforter is not a true quilt. It is made of circular pieces of fabric gathered to make a rosette or yo yo (or Suffolk puff, in England). The yo yo’s are tacked together and can also be tacked to a backing fabric. It does not have a quilt ‘sandwich’ (fabric-batting-fabric). Yo yo’s are also used in dimensional applique. Here are some examples from online auctions and the Quilt Index:
Yo yo’s make a great portable project, they are easy to make (especially with the plastic yo yo makers now available) and they are fun. Although I’m not sure that I’m up to making 10,000 tiny yo yo’s for 1 comforter!!
The indigo plant (indigofera tinctoria), which is native to the tropics, produces one of the best known natural dyes. The name comes from the Greek word, indikon, or ‘India dye’. It was well known in the ancient world–a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet has a recipe for creating the dye. Although the plant could not grow in Europe, other plants were grown, i.e. woad, to produce a similar, but lower quality dye. In the United States early settlers were able to grow the indigo plant throughout the south. In fact, Ben Franklin took 35 barrels of indigo to France to ask for their support of the American Revolutionary War in 1776. Indigo was sometimes known as “blue gold”.
Indigo dye comes from the leaves of the plant which are fermented (to convert the glycoside indican to the indigo dye) and then mixed with lye and formed into cakes or powders. It produces a blue/blue violet color which is beautiful in clothing, decorating and painting. Quilts with indigo dyed fabrics continue to be among the ‘best sellers’ in the antique quilt market. Here are some examples from online auctions:
A “shirting” is simply a fabric which can be used to construct a shirt. The Sears Catalog no. 124 from 1912 offered several different fabrics called ‘shirtings’: flannel, cotton calicos, corded, small prints, madras plaids etc.(I can’t even imagine $.05/yard!!)
Most quilters have come to know ‘shirtings’ as a cotton fabric with small abstract, geometric, or figure prints. Most commonly the ground is white with the figures printed in one color.
A friend recently found a 5 yard chunk of shirting fabric from the 1890’s at a garage sale.
Frequently prints like these with black or brown designs show signs of disintegration because the aniline dyes over time oxidize (burn) the cotton fibers. In quilts we see prints with small holes the shape and size of the original design; or we see discoloration around the print. Did you know aniline was also used as a rocket fuel as well as a dye?
Many scrap quilts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contain shirting prints and stripes. I imagine that many a household kept the scraps after making shirts for the family. Here are some examples I found on Ebay:
Shirtings were used to make men’s shirts and women’s shirtwaists (a women’s blouse which had similar details to a men’s shirt). Although many households sewed their own men’s shirts and women’s shirtwaists in the home, the garment industry employed many in the manufacture of these garments. In 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire killed 145 workers, mostly teenage girls as they attempted to evacuate the building through narrow staircases only to find that at least one of the doors was locked from the outside. As a result of the fire, laws were changed to protect workers and to make factories safer.
In 1876 the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition showed Japanese ‘crazed’ pottery (cracked glaze) and asymmetrical design to the United States. In addition, it demonstrated fine English Embroidery. Soon the Godey’s Lady’s Book and other periodicals were encouraging their readers to make crazy quilts. Most crazy quilts consist of irregular patches sewn onto a foundation (there is usually no batting, so, technically speaking, they are not a ‘quilt’). The crazy quilts from the Victorian era (late 1800s) were made from silk, velvet, satin and ribbons. They were embellished with paint, embroidery, beads and buttons. Many included ‘cigar silks’ ribbons included as a premium with cigars and souvenir ribbons (perhaps from the fair, or cities).
The above example has ribbons, embroidery motifs and a lacy edge. Most crazy quilts were never intended to be used on a bed, rather they were used as a decorative element in the living room. The presence of a crazy quilt showed off the household’s wealth–the maker did not have to do housework so she had time to do ‘fancy’ work and she had scraps of expensive materials, e.g. silks, velvet’s, and ribbons.
Most crazy quilt embroidery is on the seams utilizing combinations of stitches, such as herringbone and fly stitch. Motifs embroidered in the patches include flowers, birds, spider webs, and animals. Many crazy quilts have fan blocks or spider web blocks.
By the end of the 19th century, lady’s magazines were actively discouraging crazy quilts, decrying the waste of time involved in making them.
However, quilters continued making crazy quilts (albeit in smaller numbers). Many crazy quilts made around the turn of the century were made from wool and cotton.
Stitching became more utilitarian and the use of souvenir ribbons decreased. Generally speaking the individual pieces were larger (although there are exceptions, such as the quilt above, ca. 1910).
Crazy quilts from the 1930’s and 1940’s show off the pastel color palette of the new aniline dyes although the embroidery continued to simplify.
They were either constructed in blocks as above or sewn utilizing a sheet as the foundation. It is not unusual to see a crazy quilt with fabrics from a large range of time periods because most of them were made with scraps.
I have even seen crazy quilts made with polyester double knit fabrics from the 1960’s and 1970’s, such as this example:
Preserving crazy quilts from the 19th century can be difficult because many of the silks ‘shatter’ (disintegrate) over time due to the mordants (dye fixatives) used. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to stop the process. Treat your crazy quilts gently, and shelter them from dust and light.
I watched the Olympics this last week with interest–yes, there was some yelling going on at my house as we cheered our favorite athletes to victory. My mind and the internet combine with, sometimes, curious results. I originally thought that I would write about quilts and the Olympics. For example, during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, each athlete received a quilt, pictures of which are published in this book: Olympic Quilts. However, I thought I’d go a little further back in time to the 17th century. Yes, there were Olympick Games in Cotswald, England starting in 1622, the games included sledgehammer throwing, horse racing, jumping, fencing, and, my personal favorite, shin-kicking. I had no idea that shin-kicking was a sport, I thought it was just a game we played in school while waiting for the bus to pick us up. Yes, it is real and it is still played today…they even have a Youtube video:
Padding the shins in ‘modern’ shin-kicking is seen as essential–the sport has set aside the more extreme elements of the rules such as steel toed boots and winning by breaking the leg of the opponent. Likewise padding was seen as essential in many of the fashion trends of the 17th through 19th centuries. Waistcoats and petticoats for women and doublet’s for men were quilted both for warmth and to show off the wealth and status of the wearer. In fact, some of the earliest quilts in the Americas were items of clothing.
ca 1575-1600 quilted bodice and sleeves (open, as was the fashion back then, with another set of sleeves underneath). Said to have been worn by Marie de Medici. Spain
Embroidered and Quilted Silk Cap
Robe à la Française, European, silk and cotton with metallic thread, ca.1750 Metropolitan Museum
Silk Jacket, English 1640-1645, Glasgow Museums
These quilted pieces were valued by their owners and were recorded in household inventories and wills. I get inspiration from looking at many of these items. Of course on cold winter days here in Wisconsin I often yearn to wear a silk quilted petticoat!!
I sometimes see quilts with rounded corners come across my appraisal table. The gently curved bound corner is as tricky to sew as a mitered corner. I tried curved corners on my ‘We Support You’ quilt which you can read about here.
The curve is easy to accomplish with the aid of a binding cut on the bias. The bias tape should lay flat with no puckers and the corner shouldn’t pull the corner of the quilt toward the front or back. I also would recommend curving your corners if you want to use the binding attachment on your sewing machine.
According to Barbara Brackman there are not many quilts made prior to the 20th century with bias binding, yet there are many examples of curved corners. I wondered if the number of curved corners in the 20th century increased as a result of the use of bias binding, so I went to the Quilt Index to find out. The Quilt Index has a huge database of many quilts from all time periods. We can thank the many volunteers who have collected pictures and information through state documentation projects, museums, and collections. In addition the many organizations who have funded this massive project. It is a wonderful resource for both information and inspiration; and a great place to browse through on a lazy summer afternoon!
19th century quilts from online auctions with rounded corners.
I started my quest by doing a search on ’rounded corners’. The results came back with close to 900 quilts! Since I wanted to compare the trends between 10 year periods of time, I removed those quilts with no dates, no images, and duplicates from the search results. I also deleted from the search the quilts with shaped edges, i.e. scalloped, jagged, zig-zags, notched; and the quilts which were not shaped like a rectangle or square, i.e. octagons and circles. Removing those quilts from my search results brought the number of quilts with rounded corners down to approximately 500. I was very surprised by the small proportion of quilts in the index which have rounded corners. I guess I’m in the minority who think that rounded corners are easier to sew!!!
Next, I compared the percentage of quilts with rounded corners across the decades to the total number of quilts from those decades. I expected the percentage of quilts with rounded corners to increase in the 20th century because using bias binding became more common. I know that I’ve seen more quilts from the 1930’s with rounded corners, but I think that is because I’ve seen more quilts from that period of time.
In the chart above, notice how the number of quilts entered into the Quilt Index varies a great deal by decade. You can see the peaks of the 1880/90, 1920/30, and the 1970/80 quilt revivals. According to the chart above, the percentage of quilts with rounded corners entered into the Quilt Index has not changed over time. We may think that rounded corners increase in the twentieth century simply because we see more quilts from that period of time. I did find that there were more scalloped, zig zag, and jagged quilts from the 20th century.
20th century quilts from online auctions with rounded corners.
I’ve run across certain blogs that say that rounded corners in an antique quilt are an indication that the quilt is from the southern United States. I did a ‘quick and dirty’ look through the Quilt Index and found that there did not appear to be a relationship between rounded corners and region where the quilt was made. However, the search form does not allow a specific search for ‘location made’ and ’rounded corners’, so I searched through the entire index using ’rounded corners state’. This method appeared to be working until I got to Michigan…a great number of quilts have ‘Michigan’ in their records because that is where the Quilt Index is housed–University of Michigan. My curiosity was frustrated! I would be interested to know if anyone has further insight and evidence into regional differences and rounded corners.
In the meantime, I’m thinking up future searches of the Quilt Index and many more hours looking at beautiful quilts.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
Ink Modern Background, Zen Chic, Fat Quarter Shop
Black and White, 10″ squares, Keepsake Quilting
Black and White, Cotton and Steel
Modern Backgrounds, Moda
Dot and Dash, Riley Blake
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.
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.