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.
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.
The fall leaves’ color has peaked here in Wisconsin. Our puppy has decided that they are a threat and gives a warning bark whenever the wind blows them around. It would be annoying if she wasn’t so cute. Today I thought I would show some pictures of quilts which reminded me of fall. Orange dye was readily available in the 19th century–chrome orange (a.k.a. cheddar) is a very rich saturated color. Here are some quilts which showcase cheddar:
In the 20th century aniline dies made a softer more pastel orange possible and moved the orange more towards a red-orange, as these quilts from the Quilt Index and online auctions demonstrate:
I can’t leave out some stunning quilts which were probably made from kits:
I love quilting Minkee, my machine likes it and the back shows off quilting stitches beautifully. The picture above is the back of a traditional spools quilt. The nap (the raised thread) of Minkee and it’s polyester thread reflects light and shadow. It is also soft, cuddly and warm…as the temperatures continue to drop here in Wisconsin I will be pulling out everything that is warm!
I used an edge to edge feather design in the center of the quilt and a feathered scroll design in the border by One Song Needle Arts. The traditional look of the quilting fits well with the traditional quilt design. The spool pattern has been used in quilts for over 100 years and can look traditional or modern depending on the choice of fabrics, or how the blocks are set into the quilt top.