QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT


Monday, November 12, 2018

Bourbon/Harrison County Fan Quilt 1893


Art collector Bert Hemphill gave this remarkable quilt to the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art in 1987.  It's even more remarkable when you look at it closely, which you can do in the online photo here:
https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/fan-quilt-mt-carmel-24596

It's attributed to Bourbon County, Kentucky, northeast of Lexington.

"Mt Carmel 
Jan 16, 1893"

Mt. Carmel Christian Church was built in 1859
The quilt is credited to Bourbon County but several of the names seem to come from Cynthiana over the line in Harrison County. The Mt. Carmel Church still stands on the Cynthiana Road with a Paris, Bourbon County address.

Like many other fundraising quilts at the time, there are many names embroidered. Most of the 110 names look to be by the same hand.

"Mrs. James Lail"
The Battle Grove Cemetery in Cynthiana, Harrison County, has 67 Lails in the records,  including three James Lails. 

This portrait of "Mary Sparks" is probably Mary Isabella Sparks Boyers (1883-1959) ten years old at the time.  Like most of her family Mary is buried in the Battle Grove Cemetery.

Several of the blocks include "dressed pictures," three-dimensional embroidery with paper faces. I thought at first that the young women of the town did their own portraits. But, following up on their names indicates some were very young girls. The pictorial faces are probably not portraits but cut from fashion or advertising prints.

Ruth Worthington --- a little over two years old in winter 1893
She died at three in 1894 and is buried in the same cemetery. 

The children are seated in "Mrs. Moore's Class" --- a Sunday school class? The standing boy is James Harding Sparks, perhaps, who was about five at the time. James, buried in Cynthiana, died on a troop ship headed for Europe in World War I.


There is a strong link between the quilt and the community buried in the Cynthiana cemetery, with most of the names I've followed from Harrison County. 

Cynthiana cemetery monument to Jessie Frazer 
who died the year before the quilt was made.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Dark Ground Chintzes #5: Earliest Dates

 International Quilt Study Center & Museum #2008.040.0083

We’ve looked at an array of high-contrast dark and light ground quilts from about 1785 to
1820, among the earliest of American styles. Comparing this undated Pincushion or Orange Peel quilt from the Dillow Collection to dated quilts gives us an estimated date.


The date range begs the question concerning early quilts. Why did the style develop in the 1780s? And another: Why are there so few American patchwork cotton quilts before that time?

 Rachel Mackey, Chester County, Pennsylvania, date-inscribed 1787

I recently re-read book The Growth of the British Cotton Trade 1780-1815 by Michael M. Edwards looking for answers. The basic answer seems to be that the cottons that dictated patchwork style were unavailable before that date. Cottons from India and China had been printed for centuries and imported to Europe as luxury goods, but American patchwork style and the British printing industry are closely linked. 

Elizabeth Webster (1777-1840), Harford County, Maryland,
Date inscribed 1796. MESDA Collection.


Read more about this quilt here: 
http://mesda.org/item/collections/quilt/1641/

Why no cotton quilts here before 1780? Because cotton fabric was not available. We can look at trade, technology and taste for reasons. Trade is always important as textiles have long been a basis of international economies. Revolution in North America meant no English imports until after the peace in 1783, but even had ships been sailing from England to New England there would not have been much British cotton to carry.


The technology for the cotton prints in Elizabeth's quilt developed during her lifetime, particularly in
the last thirty years of the 18th century. Cotton is difficult to spin by hand or with early mechanized machinery. Eighteenth-century cotton yarns were better for weft than warp, which is why so much mixed fabric of linen and cottons (fustian) was produced. 

Medallion quilt, collection of Connor Prairie Museum.

There were bottlenecks at every step of cotton production from field to cleaning and carding, spinning yarns and weaving cloth.


 And the raw cotton was hard to obtain; it’s a fussy plant with soil and climate determining quality.

Cradle Quilt, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Robbins family, Lexington, Massachusetts

Late-18th-century technological changes included new plant varieties from the Americas producing better yarns. British mechanization improved and patents expired, encouraging competition and further progress. Weavers became more skillful and more productive, working under new and efficient organizational structures. And textile engineers experimented with engraved rollers suited to cheaper cotton calicoes.

Cylinder printing in the 19th century



Technological changes resulted in plentiful goods resulting in changing taste. Women's gowns became simpler, suitable for lighter cotton rather than silk, wool and linen. Cheaper fabric for the gown meant more money for accessories, such as cashmere shawls and fur tippets. Cotton was easily laundered resulting in an emphasis on personal hygiene, the Beau Brummell look of starched, clean garments. And inexpensive fabrics meant a more egalitarian look across the classes.

By 1811 a British "Lady of Distinction" was called to condemn the evil of “the present leveling modes. A tradesman’s wife is now as sumptuously arrayed as a countess, and the waiting maid as gaily as her lady.”

Sheraton-style chair with a chintz seat

Decorating fashion also adapted to the novel styles with furniture prints for "calico table cloths, doyles [we spell it doilies], curtains, chair covers, bed hangings & sheetings” and, of course, patchwork bedcovers. Furniture softened with printed cottons changed the look of rooms once dominated by dark and heavy wooden pieces.

 International Quilt Study Center & Museum #2007.031.0007
Mary Campbell Ghormley Collection


Taste demanded variety and value. Printers, shippers, merchants and cotton growers made fortunes in supplying the demand.

 International Quilt Study Center & Museum #2008.040.0131 
Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection

So I can give up looking for American cotton patchwork before the last quarter of the 18th century and change my mind about pieces like the two below.

Connecticut quilt with embroidery from the mid 18th century
 and patchwork from the late century.
From a Cora Ginsburg catalog

Once I would have looked at the patchwork and the embroidery as being from the same time frame and considered a mid-18th-century date, but this is a case of someone incorporating an older embroidered piece into a later bedcover.
Ditto below.

From the White Family of Massachusetts. Collection of the Smithsonian

And that's the end of the posts on high-contrast quilts and dark-ground chintzes---I'm impressed with the style's popularity and how many survivors are in public collections. Just imagine how many did not survive. It must have been a real craze.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dark Ground Chintzes #4: What Color Is It?

I've been familiar with this checkerboard quilt in the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art for many years. In my mind it has always been "the brown and white quilt from the Alexander Hamilton family." Collector Sallie Casey Thayer found it about 100 years ago and that is the story she was told.

But apparently the dark print was not considered brown when it was made.

From a quilt dated 1795 by M. Campbell, Smithsonian Collection

In fact the word brown for a calico or chintz is curiously absent from all discussion of these obviously brown prints.

Here's what Peter Floud said about the prints:
"The ground itself, which is always of a characteristic purple-black---sometimes appropriately referred to in the pattern books as damson...looks unmistakably different from the pure black or blue-black grounds...from logwood and indigo."

Current exhibit at Old Sturbridge Village features
this high contrast quilt

He mentioned that "the earliest book on calico printing, Charles O'Brien's The British Manufacturers Companion refers to 'dark or shady patterns (according to the present [taste])" in 1791.

Everybody seemed to know what a dark-ground print was. In 1820 a London exhibition offered a prize, a silver medal "For the best original pattern in a new taste, of light and dark ground Chintz for garment work, or furniture for the purpose of the Calico printers."


In 1799, The Laboratory discussed  "Black, or dark-ground chintz patterns"


This is not black in my eyes. It's brown.

From the M. Campbell quilt


Or plum---a dark purple with a reddish cast

Floud mentioned "Damson" as a color name

A Damson is an English plum, small and rather blue.
These prints are not blue---derived from madder they tend to reddish brown

UPDATE: Carolyn Gibbs wrote:
"Your query about why the description of a dark background is described as 'damson' when the fruit is blue/black can be explained by the fact that when they are cooked, the colour of damsons changes to an intense reddish purple."
Thanks, Carolyn, from a person who has never cooked a plum.

From a scrappy brown quilt in the collection of the Smithsonian

I've designed several reproduction chintzes in plum-colored versions.

 
Some of my favorites.

It's not that textile people did not use the word brown 200 years ago; they often discussed it as a color. For example O'Brien discussed "pompadour or brown-red". But when it came to describing the finished product the word brown was neglected. 


There was chocolate, buff, aubergine, plum, pompadour, damson and puce (the color of a squashed flea.)

Perhaps puce, a dark-reddish brown

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Dark Ground Chintzes #3: Defining a Style


Dark ground prints, one with a cracked ice figure, a version of a floral trail.

Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, attributed to 
Chester County, Pennsylvania 
This lovely quilt is undated but consistent with the nine-patch quilts we've been looking at 
inscribed from about 1785-1810.

Light ground and dark ground chintzes featuring floral trail style sets

Copp Family Nine-Patch, Connecticut
 Smithsonian Insitution
Estimated date 1790-1810

Beyond patchwork pattern, style characteristics here are a high-contrast color scheme
using very dark ground prints I'd call brown and very light prints or plain white.

Detail from the Copp quilt

Much like one dated 1808 by Ester Carter
Ester's uses more limited fabrics

For more about early nine patch quilts see this post

 Martha Frances Dabney Collier (1744-1815), About 1790, Virginia
Collection of Colonial Williamsburg

This star and tulip medallion  is quite worn, showing the particular problems with dark brown cottons and linens. The mordants weaken the fibers so the dark colors wear before others.



Connecticut project & the Quilt Index

Star quilt, Smithsonian Institution

These are not the kind of patchwork you see in Great Britain.
I'd guess it is an American style.

The undated quilts are attributed to about 1790-1810 based on the popularity of dark ground chintzes as described by Peter Floud and the date-inscribed examples shown in the last post.

From the Michigan Project
This almost a wholecloth quilt is so minimal it's modern.
The appeal of the dark/light style is the simplicity of the high contrast look.

Elizabeth Wilber, Old Sturbridge Village Collection 
in Massachusetts

Then there are style subcategories.

A border or flounce or a red and white toile.


From the Massachusetts project and the Quilt Index

Ditto


Smithsonian, no information

Tomorrow we talk about the color of the dark ground fabrics.