Sunday, October 15, 2017

Chintzes for the Portuguese 7: Conclusions

Collection of the Winterthur Museum

It's been seven days of blather about Portuguese Prints. And I do have a point to make. Well, several, so here's a summary of what I learned.

Block Printing a Striped Cotton

Between 1721 and 1811 British mills were prohibited by law from selling cotton prints to English customers. Undeterred, England's entrepreneurs developed a world-wide cotton export business catering to the taste of customers in India, Africa and the Americas.

Kate Tupper's border fabric,
mid-19th century. See her quilt at Colonial Williamsburg:

The English cotton's likely trip from Northern England to Kate in Charleston
(possibly traded several times and maybe making more stops)

Subject matter to please foreign taste included exotic florals and birds, brilliant colors made possible with new dyes, and gaudy contrasting stripes.

Roller Printing became viable in the early 19th century

After prohibitions were lifted that export market continued to thrive. Britain's innovative technology in printing techniques and dyes enabled them to dominate the cotton print market for decades in the 19th century until many customer countries developed their own cotton printing capabilities.

American woman in a striped dress about 1850.
Her dress fabric is probably an import.

The United States began a thriving domestic competition with British small-scale calicoes in the 1840s and with British furnishing chintzes in the 1870s. Domestic printing industries in smaller countries such as Portugal developed later.

Turkeys as exotic birds---A Portuguese print from the Cooper-Hewitt
1841. "[Send me] furniture calico, but take care to select none such, as will exhibit Turkey Gobblers, Peacocks, Bears, Elephants, wild Boars." 
An order from Texan Sam Houston. Apparently he was not looking for a Portuguese print.
Portrait of Briton Lady Anne Blunt, Lord Byron's granddaughter,
and her drapes: a cornucopia and a large bird.

For much of the 18th- and 19th centuries British production was aimed at foreign markets. One term for those foreign customers was the "Portuguese Market," perhaps textile jargon based on centuries of trade with Portugal and Brazil. The 19th-century prints were not produced in Portugal although they may have passed through a Portuguese port as part of the triangular European/African/American trade.

Early-20th-century reference to an "Old Portuguese design"

The name Portuguese Print seems to have been a familiar term to American customers into the early 20th-century, meaning a bright furnishing fabric, often a wide floral stripe.

A Portuguese Quilt from the Cooper-Hewitt Collection
The wholecloth quilt may have been made in Portugal but the fabric
was printed in Britain

The name continued as a descriptor. When donors gave textile samples to museums over the past hundred years, they might have classified the cotton or quilt as "Portuguese" meaning either a British export print or one done in that style. Those references in museum catalogs are confusing to 21st-century readers who have no community memory of a "Portuguese Print."

Two stripes  from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum

One signature style of Portuguese print is a wide stripe alternating florals with birds or Asian-style Chinoiserie. 

Recent Chita de Alcobaca from Portugal

Portugal's domestic textile industry continues selling similar prints today. What was once printed for their taste is now designed by Portuguese mills for domestic and export consumption. (Is it actually printed in Portugal or, like American cottons today, designed and marketed there but printed in Asia?)

Border on a sunburst quilt in the collection of Indiana's
Conner Prairie Museum, from about 1840 -1860. It looks like the bird stripe
has been cut from a chintz.

This style of striped Portuguese print was popular with quilters in the United States between about 1820 and 1860, particularly for borders.

Collection of Leah Zieber Quilts

Striped florals were fashionable for drapes and other furnishings from 1820 well into the 20th century.

Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle:
The epitome of Victorian taste.
High Fashion?

At one point I was sure that the idea of a print aimed at foreign taste meant that the English would not be interested in a gaudy stripe. However, as with everything in Victorian Britain class was a factor.  A caption for one at the Victorian & Albert's website tell us that the fabric might have "limited appeal for high fashion in the mid-19th century [but] such details were still popular with the wider public."

See the catalog entry at the Victoria & Albert here:

My first guess: The "Portuguese prints" were not sold in Britain---at first due to law--- and after 1811 due to taste. But once I got a better look at Victoria's couch at Balmoral...

The detail is from a painting by James Giles. His father
was a calico designer and James did 
an excellent job of capturing the Queen's taste in furniture prints.

I would guess this chintz medallion from the collection of
the New England Quilt Museum was made in England.
The center octagonal panel celebrates the wedding of Charlotte
the Princess of Wales to Victoria's Uncle Leopold in 1816.

That border certainly qualifies as a Portuguese stripe.
The stripes printed for the export market also appealed to the English.

American taste about 1850.
Floral stripes were apparently fashionable dresses too.

Lisa sent a photo of a chintz she bought on line. Here it is in her Pennsylvania living room. It's amazing how large these figures were.

She's cut out one of medallions for the center of a cut-out chintz/Broderie Perse quilt she's working on. It's probably a 20th-century repro of an older piece, very much like the "Portuguese" stripe in Lewis' book Chintz

This gives you a better idea of the scale in Lewis's photo.

I've spent so much of my time and yours on this topic because I am trying to figure out the sources for the prints in American quilts before 1850. The Portuguese prints manufactured in Britain for export are one piece of the puzzle. I would guess that most of the prints we see in American quilts at that time followed the same Atlantic trading routes----Liverpool to Lisbon to Africa to Rio to the U.S. coast.

The fact that mid-19th-century Britain's largest market for cotton fabrics was Brazil shakes up my ideas of how Kate Tupper's border fabric wound up in Charleston.


  1. Thanks for all the great info (research!) and eye candy - I really enjoyed the series!

  2. Thank you for this wonderful series of posts. I look forward to further discoveries!

  3. This has been most interesting and I have enjoyed reading all of the great information you have provided! Thanks for your continuing research and I love your blog.

  4. Why were the British Mills prohibited from selling printed cottons in Britain from 1711 to the 1800s? Fascinating series of articles!!

  5. Thank you for all of your exhaustive research. I am sure all of us will never look at chintz again without recalling your fascinating study.

  6. It's been an interesting journey. Thanks fr all the information!

  7. Why were British mills prohibited from selling cotton in Britain? Protectionism. The government and the woolen mill owners were threatened by cotton production. They figured if they outlawed printed cottons Britons wouldn't buy it or smuggle it. It's more complex than that but that's sorta why.

  8. Wow! This has been a great journey with you learning about chintz. I've always loved it, but had no idea of its history and how long it took to get here. No wonder early quilters held it in such esteem and made such amazing quilts with it.Thank you for you research and for generously sharing it with us.

  9. I have enjoyed this series. Also went off to research the Calico Acts - and what an interesting journey that was! Ladies were fined for wearing printed dresses - some had their clothes ripped off (and worse things were done to them too in some cases). This was the thesis that I found very interesting and if anyone else would like to read it with lots of links to his sources too:


    Thank you Barbara.

  10. Thanks for the link, Kerry. I'll read that thesis on the plane to AQSG.

  11. Hope you enjoy it.

    If only you were my history teacher at school! Mine despaired as I'd no interest in modern history. And here you are leading me into all sorts of historical adventures! Although fabric is a subject I'm eager to learn more about. Now retaining it all is another matter!

    Safe journey.

  12. The Chintz Medallion with the Princess Charlotte Panel is currently on display at the New England Quilt Museum until October 29th. Laura Lane, Collections Manager

  13. I truly loved the history lesson. I read all the posts in one time and had a lovely time. Thank you very much!

  14. Well it has been a journey. I have learned a lot and look forward to the other puzzle pieces of which you mentioned.......