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.
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
Dot and Dash, Riley Blake
Black and White, 10″ squares, Keepsake Quilting
Black and White, Cotton and Steel
Modern Backgrounds, Moda
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.
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.
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:To 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?