Sunday, April 18, 2021

Edward Bancroft: Dyes & Spies


Metropolitan Museum of Art, About 1840
Pansies (violas) printed in drab style using
a mordant printing method.

Edward Bartholomew Bancroft (1744–1821) was a chemist who discovered a profitable natural dye derived from the American black oak tree. When the American colonies were subjects of King George III, Bancroft, born in Massachusetts and living in Guiana, realized that the inner bark of  Quercus velutina would dye fiber a variety of shades from yellow through green to almost a true black, depending on the mordant used. He called the dye powder Quercitron and applied for a British patent on its distribution in 1771.

Above & below, two pillar prints dyed with Quercitron,
collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum
Early 19th century, about 1805.

Quercitron was quite useful, giving printers a
colorfast yellow as well as a way to print shades
from olive drab green through a variety of browns.
The print style became known as drab.

Another drab pillar print from England
probably done after Bancroft's patent expired.

The quercitron patent lasted until 1799 and temporarily profited Bancroft and his American brother Daniel as well as Captain John Paul Jones and other business partners, but Bancroft was never as good at business as he was at observation of the natural world and he died an Englishman in debt.

Detail of a quilt from the Shelburne Museum collection

Reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin I came across an account of Franklin's years in Europe as an agent of the rebellious American colonies. Franklin met Bancroft in England; the men had much in common and became friends. One major difference, however, was Franklin's commitment to the American revolution and Bancroft's Tory sentiments, which he kept a secret. As Franklin tried to woo France into supporting the rebellious Americans he enlisted Bancroft as secretary to the American Commission in Paris and counted on Bancroft to keep him informed as to British opinion and activities, in essence a spy.

But Franklin misjudged Bancroft who turned double
agent spying on the American Commission for Britain,
a betrayal discovered a century later.

Patchwork chair cover with a drab-style ruffle
from the collection of the D.A.R. Museum 

Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles tells us that drab style prints
were popular for less than a decade after the Bancroft patent expired.

Tied wholecloth quilt with a drab style floral probably
dating to after 1810.

1821 ad in Camden, South Carolina forg drab wools

That date range that is likely based on the research of Peter Floud of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who published "The Drab Style and the Designs of Daniel Goddard." in Connoisseur 139 (June 1957). But the date seems too narrow, particularly when dating quilts.

Quilt by Sarah Clark Ellis Ide (1822-1902),
estimated date 1845.

Sarah's mid-century quilts uses drab style prints in the
hexagons as well as the border.

When considering patchwork with drab style prints one should move the date to perhaps as late as 1840. There is also a difference of opinion as to what constitutes "drab style" A narrow definition sticks to the colors obtainable with quercitron, the yellow to green and brown range.

Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas
Drab style yellow and brown

Blue could be added---penciled by hand with a brush as in this sample from the Winterthur's collection shown in Heather Hansen's 2011 thesis, the most comprehensive discussion of drab style and quercitron since Floud's. Read The quest for quercitron: revealing the story of a forgotten dye.


Winterthur Collection.
Do a search for quercitron here:

Some would include prints with added madder reds in
drab style.

British frame quilt---1800-1830???

Cotton dress about 1830 
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Winterthur Collection
There's a certain drab style print, a kind of gnarly tree with green & yellow
leaves that seems to be from the artists at the Bannister Hall printworks
in England.

One of their most popular was "Royal Oak."

A scrap of Royal Oak in an American quilt
from the 1840s--it may be a knock-off.

From the Hansen thesis
Archibald Rowan designed this drab style print about 1800
for his short-lived Delaware printing house.

Quilt by Zebiah Hewson
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Evidence that Pennsylvania printer John Hewson used quercitron.

The vegetation influenced by the Bannister Hall look.

I've written about quercitron and drab style prints in two earlier posts. But interest in Bancroft's perfidious spying career inspired me to look around for more quercitron prints.



Thursday, April 15, 2021

Flora Delanica #7: Summer Lily

Flora Delanica #7: Summer Lily or Asphodel Lily by
Nancy Phillips in wool.

Mary Delany was known for her needlework as well as her paper mosaics. A remarkable piece of textiles is her embroidered skirt/petticoat with flowers quite similar to her "paper mosaicks."

The skirt was cut into pieces for descendants,
one of whom Ruth Hayden was lucky enough to
inherit a piece, inspiring her to write about Mary.

The late-life paper collages may be an aging woman's response to her fading eye/hand skills, so impressive in her middle years. Biographer Clarissa Campbell Orr writes that Mary and her friends were embroidering show aprons in 1740 when Mary was about 40.

Summer Lily or Asphodel Lily by Becky Brown

In her 1915 book Quilts: Their Story & How to Make Them, Marie D. Webster, tells of two Delany quilts: One "Of white linen worked in flowers, the size of nature, delineated with the finest coloured silks in running stitch," the other "Upon a foundation of nankeen [a naturally yellow cotton]. This was unique in that no colours were used besides the dull yellow of the background. Applied designs of leaves tied together with ribbons, all cut from white linen and stitched to the nankeen with white thread."

Augusta Waddington Hall, Lady Llanover (1802-1896)
in traditional Welsh costume

Neither survive. Her great-grand-niece Augusta Hall Lady Llanover in her 1861 volumes of Mary's letters, gave us more information about the embroidered quilt, "bordered with flowers from nature of a large size, and bows of ribbon....The ground of the quilt (the centre) is filled up by a beautiful and intricate mosaic pattern of white knotting sewn down."

The second quilt seems to have featured white cotton appliqued leaves stitched to the minimally contrasting yellow background. Webster interpreted this as what we'd call an applique quilt. Lady Llanover also described it as "an intricate pattern of leaves cut out in white linen and sewed down with white knotting on bright dark blue linen;" which makes a little more sense, but blue or nankeen colored---no more information is in the literature.

White Work Bedcover
About 96 inches square

The Ulster Museum in Belfast owns a third quilt or bedcover attributed to Mary Delany---all whitework. Catalog notes:
"Irish linen coverlet worked with knotted and couched cords. It has an overall trellis design with a central medallion, by Mrs Mary Delany."

Inked on the piece: “This quilt was worked by Mrs Delany
 & presented by her to Thos. Sandford on the day of his birth 1765.” 

Thomas Sandford (1765-1812) was the second son of Sarah Chapone Sandford and Daniel Sandford. Thomas's mother was Mary's goddaughter and his elder brother Daniel was Mary's godson, born at Delville, her house in Dublin. Mary remained close to this family and in her will left each of Sarah's boys five guineas to buy books or something else they might want.

We might call this kind of embroidery a candlewick spread or a chenille bedspread.

Is the piece finished?

Did Mary actually do the knotting or just draft the complex design? There are several references to Mary working on a quilt. One day at Delville in 1750 while Patrick Delany and a friend were out:
 "Miss Ford ... read to me whilst I worked at my quilt till the gentlemen came home to dinner."
Marguerite, Madame Crozat, 1741
by Jacque Andre-Joseph Aved, Musee Fabre

This is how ladies spent their time, someone reading aloud while friends did plain sewing or fancy needlework.
The Block

#7 Summer, Crimson or Asphodel Lily

(Crinum Zeylanicum) Asphodel Lily by Mary Delany
The Asphodel Lily was a Mediterranean specimen, native to Turkey

Applique on the diagonal to an square cut 10-1/2" or on the vertical center of a rectangle cut 9-1/2" x 12-1/2".

One Way to Print the Pattern:

Create a word file or a new empty JPG file that is 8-1/2" x 11".
Click on the image above.
Right click on it and save it to your file.
Print that file out 8-1/2" x 11". Note the inch square block for reference.
Adjust the printed page size if necessary.

Summer Lily or Asphodel Lily by Barbara Brackman

A Little More Mary Delany

Convallaria Majalis 
Lilies of the Valley were a life-long theme.

Further Reading & Shopping

Read more about Mary's embroidery here:

And in Mrs. Delany & Her Circle, edited by Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts, published in 2009 for an exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art.

See the Ulster Museum's needlework collection here:
I didn't see a photo of Mary's knotted bedcover there but found the pictures above on their Facebook page.
A possible fourth bedcover described by Lady Llanover:
"Another most wonderful quilt worked by Mrs. Delany, and one of the very few things she never finished. It appears only to have been done when she had no painting to occupy her, and when old age at last forbad the execution of pictures (either with pencil or scissors) this quilt could not be completed. It is on white linen, worked in flowers, the size of nature, delineated with the finest coloured silks in running stitch, which is made use of in the same manner as by a pen etching on white paper; the outline was first drawn with pencil, each flower is different and evidently done at the moment from the original."

Sybil Connolly's Mrs. Delany's Flowers 
China for Tiffany & Co.

Here's my set for 10" square blocks. Requires 13 appliqued blocks.

Drew the 8 triangles in EQ8.
For the corner triangles cut 2 squares 8" and slice in half diagonally.

Monday, April 12, 2021

New Addition-BlockBasePlus: Whirling Star


We added dozens of new/old patterns to the new Encyclopedia
of Pieced Quilt Patterns and the new BlockBase+
Here's one.

Someone counted and there are 4,264 pieced patterns you can print out any size you want them. Available for Windows 10 & MAC systems.

"Whirling Star" came from the designers at the Alice Brooks/Laura Wheeler
syndicated pattern company. Here the copyright holder is Household Arts. 

The older versions of my indexes were short on Alice Brooks designs. I hadn't seen many but a few friends told me the lack was a serious omission so I got on it and found quite a few to include in the latest editions.

I was lucky enough to buy a scrapbook with many clippings from the Alice Brooks column in the 1930s. And Newspapers.com became a great source for finding the clipping online and the date. The
Whirling Star was published in 1940 (see the copyright date on the pattern.) 

Merikay Waldvogel is the authority on Ms. Brooks, and I give her
a hard time by photoshopping the mysterious designer as the evil Mrs. Danvers.
The unknown designers DID generate some tough-to-piece

But today we laugh in the face of difficult piecing. Especially if we have a good pattern.

Which of course we do now that it's in BlockBase+

This could be easily paper pieced for the whirling parts. 
The hardest part would be doing the Y seams to connect those to
the center square (and that is not really hard.)

One of the great new features in BlockBase+ is that you can not only print the pattern
on your printer but you can export it as a PDF if you want to store it digitally or send it. In the past I always did a screen save and then saved it ---many keystrokes. PDF easier.

I enjoy making the patterns for my various blogs though, so I still import a screen share of the pattern to Photoshop and then add and subtract things, which I did below. Good practice in the new Photoshop and my new computer too.
Print it out on an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of paper 4 for each block.

BlockBase+ has another new feature with QUILT LAYOUT down towards the bottom right. You get several ideas and I liked the On-Point layout the program generated.

I thought I'd recolor it so I went to my EQ8 program and under 
Block Library I searched BlockBase+ and imported #3162.5.
I dropped it into an On Point Layout and tried different shading & coloring.
(Note: You have to load a free update of EQ8 to get these programs to coordinate but its easy enough to do.)

This will keep me entertained all afternoon.
My theory on computer programs: Work at least an
hour a day every day for a month and you will get
good enough to enjoy it.

One problem with these complex Alice Brooks designs is that the quiltmaking audience of the 1940s just didn't want to tackle them and that must be why I have no finished examples of Whirling Star to show you (not even some wacky orphan block.) Have you ever seen one made up?

I think this is from Western Ontario Canada.
UPDATE: Hours after I posted this I found one. 

The people at Electric Quilt (who did all this amazing work) have a series on the new features in BlockBase+.

Christine shows you how to use the seven sample quilts layouts here:

Here's the first page of comparisons between old & new.
See the whole thing here: