Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Civil War Uniforms or Not

There are a few questions I'm asked on a regular basis. One FAQ (frequently asked question) concerns wool comforters made from Civil War uniforms. A typical query might read like the description of the quilt above from an eBay posting a few months ago.

" This is a very nice old quilt that I am told is a Mourning Quilt. The quilt measures 90” x 70” and is extremely heavy. The top is made of pieces of men's clothing. Some of the pieces are said to be pieces of a uniform worn in the civil war."

The bidding started on that quilt at $37 which seems a reasonable price for a nicely embroidered comforter in good shape.

Not so reasonably priced are similar quilts purchased for $450 or more, purported to be pieced of Civil War uniforms. The writer who's paid this amount wants to know if I can confirm a Civil War provenance. And what is the quilt worth?

I don't do appraisals but I can usually confirm that the buyer has been taken.

These embroidered, tied wool quilts are very common. I did a search on eBay in late October and found 13 examples for sale that day with bidding ranging from $9.99 for a top to $285 (for a crib-size). They varied in skill level, detail and condition, but all were squares and/or rectangles of subdued wools.

Many were embroidered and some were finished with ties on the top.

It's easy to see why one might think these are Civil War uniforms. The fabrics are so often blue and gray.

Here are a few things to remember when considering a quilt supposedly made of Civil War uniforms.

1. Without some strong family history or other corroboration, the story is very likely to be false.

2. If there is strong evidence, consult an expert on Civil War uniforms rather than a quilt expert, as most of us are not experts on army uniforms.

3. While many Union soldiers wore uniforms of some consistent design and fabric in navy blue, Confederates wore diverse clothing of diverse fabrics, from butternut brown to Confederate "gray" to everyday clothing.

4. Confederate gray is not what we would call gray, which is a colorless pale shade of black. The Confederate uniforms I have see are what I would call blue, a pale blue wool. I have seen only a few, but the pictures here look to be made of wool fabric woven of blue and white warps and wefts, the kind of cloth we still call jeans. The dark blue yarn (probably dyed with indigo or Prussian blue) crossed with a white yarn gives a pale blue effect.

The comforters in question were made about 1890-1930, often from wool samples torn from sample books. See a book below.


  1. I've been learning so much from your blog, and just wanted to thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge.

  2. I love old wool quilts. My grandmother used to make crazy quilts with my grandfather's old pants, have no idea what happened to them.


  3. Hi Barbara,
    I've tried several times to send you emails but they are returned undeliverable.


  4. I see lots of "salesman sample" quilts around Augusta made with everything from wools for suits to ties! My grandmother used part of my Dad's WWII navy uniform and part of his wedding suit in a quilt...

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  6. As a quilt historian, can you give advice to women who would like to quilt on civil war reenactment weekends? I like to sew and have not done much quilting to speak of. I have tried Civil War Emporium's Quilting Kit and it turned out okay, so I have order this book "The Civil War Diary Quilt" from them and hope to look it over and start a new reenactment hobby this coming year.