Evaluating A Quilt–Looking at the Back

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:

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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.

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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.

Have a quilty day!!

 

John Hewson, Calico Printer, Revolutionary Soldier

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Have a quilty day!!

References:

http://quilt1812warandpiecing.blogspot.com/search?q=john+hewson

http://kennethwmilano.com/page/Encyclopaedia/KensingtonPortraitsBiographies/KensingtonBiographies/JohnHewson/tabid/171/Default.aspx

http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/108224.html

http://vfparkalliance.org/documents/british-campaign-for-philadelphia.pdf

http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=36857

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O88601/dress-unknown/

 

 

Puffs, Yo Yo’s, Rosettes

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.

131a14637587b7350029dde53a1a53fc--fashion-vintage-vintage-clothingThe 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!!

Indigo

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:

Shirtings

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.shirting 1Shirting calico(I can’t even imagine $.05/yard!!)

Shirting Sears Catalogue 120 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. 20170630_133749

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.

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References:

http://barbarabrackman.blogspot.com/search?q=shirting

Sears Catalog no. 124:  https://archive.org/details/catalogno12400sear

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aniline

http://www.straw.com/sig/dyehist.html

http://www.history.com/topics/triangle-shirtwaist-fire

 

 

 

 

Crazy for Crazy Quilts!!!

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).

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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.

s-l500-3Most 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.

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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.

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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.  s-l500

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.s-l500-6

I have even seen crazy quilts made with polyester double knit fabrics from the 1960’s and 1970’s, such as this example:il_fullxfull-1110677381_sa3o

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.