QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT

QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT By Quilt Historian Barbara Brackman Above: Moda's Morris Earthly Paradise

Friday, September 24, 2010

More on Turkey Red

Quilt date-inscribed 1845
Turkey red cotton was expensive due to the complexity of the dyeing process,
which involved many steps and some caustic chemicals.


But quilters knew it was smart to pay extra for Turkey red. In the quilt above, from about 1900, the Turkey red stars have remained bright. Stars dyed with a newer synthetic dye have faded away or bled.


The reds probably looked identical to the quiltmaker when she was piecing this top, but water, sunlight and just time could fade synthetic reds to a salmon-colored pink.

Here's another example. These faded pinks combined with bright Turkey reds usually date to 1880-1920.

Identifying the dyestuff in a red fabric involves chemistry and physics way beyond the skill level of the average Quilt Detective. But the durability of the red color in quilts (such as the three above) indicates that the bright red cottons were likely dyed with Turkey red.

Turkey red also has a distinctive wearing pattern. Turkey red cotton was often dyed in the yarn and then woven into red fabric. The color is durable but the process caused the yarns to wear, revealing the inner white yarn shaft. Notice the white streaks in the mid-19th-century applique above. More wear will worsen the problem.


Abrasion is the major cause of Turkey reds tendering (the textile term for rotting or shredding). Abrasion is caused by use and washing in particular. The Turkey red and the other cottons in this mid-19th-century applique above are shredding due to abrasion.


Washing has caused the greens to fade and the reds to shred in the mid-19th-century applique above.
Turkey red is often the first fabric to deteriorate because the dye process is so hard on the cotton.


Two lessons here:

  1. Red cottons streaking and abrading in the above fashion indicate the Turkey red dyeing process.

  2.  Do not wash Turkey red quilts in the washing machine.

OUCH!
Old quilts deserve hand washing.

8 comments:

Lori said...

It is interesting to see how the turkey red has worn. Thanks for the education.

Nifty Quilts said...

Very interesting. I actually prefer the quilts in which some reds have faded and some have not, weirdo that I am.

Sharon said...

Beautiful quilts. I'm quite taken by the red & green quilts from days gone by, great information. Thanks

WoolenSails said...

I love red in quilts, it is my favorite color besides green, lol.
I searched our library for your name and today I got the civil war and slave quilts, books. I will enjoy looking through them and getting inspiration.

Debbie

Kathie said...

Enjoyed reading this post as I have seen many of these examples...now I hope you talk about greens! I find it interesting how many of them turn brown/tan and some are as green as they were the day they were appliqued on. Blue/green vs poison greens ....
thanks Kathie

terry said...

Thank you so much for the info on red dyes - this is the most comprehensive (thou not long) discussion on red dyes that I've read. I've learned so much from your blog.

Terry in So. Calif.

ParisMaddy said...

Some beautiful examples---thanks!

Leticia Taylor said...

I love red in quilts, it is my favorite color besides green, lol. I searched our library for your name and today I got the civil war and slave quilts, books. I will enjoy looking through them and getting inspiration. Debbie