Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bolt Stamps, Bolt Labels and Selvages

Kathy from New York had a question about a Double Irish Chain quilt top:

I recently received a red and muslin quilt top, it is all hand pieced. It has a marking on the backside of one muslin piece- it says "finished soft for the sewing machine" and there is a picture of a woman at a sewing machine. I am trying to learn where this stamp came from and that may help date the quilt. The person that gave me the quilt top knew nothing about its origin.
The stamp is probably a "bolt stamp," a textile mill identification device.

Today we identify our prints on the selvage edge with words and logos printed on the fabric.

The marking system was similar in the 18th century as in this piece of furnishing chintz
which probably reads "Printed in xxxx" on the left.

Here's a bolt stamp from about 1800 that is more legible.
Under the crown it says "British Manufactory"

This one identifies the Ovey shop in London.

Bolt stamps were also applied in places other than the selvage, often by wood blocks with copper wire additions for detail in the most elaborate logos. Bolt stamps applied other than in the selvage worked best on plain white cotton, manufactured at a bleachery. The Bolton Museum in Lancashire, England has several collections of bleacher's bolt stamp prints, the earliest dating to the 1830's-'40s. Bolt stamps seem to have fallen out of use in the mid-20th century, possibly because of the labor expense in making them.

The Museum website also mentions:

Small stamps, called "truth marks"…placed at the cloth end. If the truth mark was missing, then it meant the cloth had been cut down.
Read more about the Bolton Museum's archives here:

So Kathy's stamp looks to be a bolt stamp from a bleachery. It's hard to date quilt tops that are just Turkey red and white, but they were quite popular from about 1880 to 1910. The fabric certainly had to be after the spread of the sewing machine which began about 1845.

During much of the 19th century mills also identified themselves with paper labels on prints

As color lithography advanced these bolt labels became quite elaborate.

Read more about bolt labels here at the Bolton Museums website

Bolt labels continued into the 20th century....

...until words on the selvage edge became the standard again.
Here's a piece of Ely & Walker's Quadriga Cloth from the mid-20th-century.

Collecting vintage bolt labels and bolt stamps is a nice specialization for the fabric collector.

You may be familiar with the current fashion for selvage quilts. Karen Griska is encouraging "extreme scrap quilting" with trimmed selvages.

Fan quilt by Karen Griska
See her blog

May Britt's block
See her blog:


  1. What a treasure this post!


  2. I was so surprised to see my selvage block in your blog. How fun :) I have your blog on my bloglines and love to visit it and read all the history you are showing us. I think the history behind quilting is as important as the fun and joy in quilting is.

  3. I think you may have solved my indigo and white mystery...the marks are most likely bolt stamps. Thanks!

  4. Fascinating! I never heard of bolt labels before. Great photos.
    Thanks for mentioning my blog too.

  5. I saw a picture of a bolt end of nainsook that had “3/4” on it.
    Is this the width? 27 inches? Thanks!