Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Indigo Prints: Resist and Discharged Figures

Julie in Tennessee sent me blocks removed from an old comforter cover. She'd received them from a friend who was a member of the Shields family of Cades Cove, Tennessee. The pattern is one I haven't seen.
The blocks look to be from 1890-1920 when indigo prints were relatively inexpensive and very popular with quiltmakers. They show typical indigo coloring with a dyed blue background and white figures, style dictated by indigo's chemistry. Indigo will not color if it is exposed to oxygen, so simply applying indigo to a wood block or copper plate does not work because the dye binds with the oxygen in the air.

Here's a date-inscribed quilt from an online auction with indigo blue as the ground and white figures in the print. It's a typical early 20th-century factory printed indigo.

Printers traditionally print white figures on indigo grounds in a reserve or resist process (also called batik) by applying wax or a resist paste in a pattern on the fabric and then dipping it in the indigo dye vat. When the paste is removed a white on blue design appears. Another technique developed about 1800 involves dyeing the fabric blue in the indigo vat and then printing a discharge paste to bleach out the figures. The prints in the Cades Cove blocks and Aunt Celia's quilt are probably done in a sophisticated variation of the discharge technique (although the pattern design is rather unsophisticated).
The indigo resist process has been used by artisans all over the world. Pennsylvania historian Trish Herr has been collecting early indigo resist prints from the Germanic people there. These are hand printed rather than factory printed.

And Japanese printers still dye in traditional fashion.

This quilt is called Japanese Coins, made by Georgann Eglinski from Japanese fabrics, 2009.

Printers figured out ways to reverse the figure/ground appearance in indigos. The earliest technique was the labor-intensive process of applying resist paste to the background and leaving the figures to absorb the dye. These indigo resist prints are sometimes called China blue prints because they look like a piece of porcelain.

Elizabeth Richardson Collection. Western Kentucky University Library

Above: a scrap of old indigo resist with blue figure and white ground from quilt historian Florence Peto's collection. She gave it to collector Elizabeth Richardson several decades ago. Recently, quilts, correspondence, and scrapbooks belonging to Elizabeth Richardson were donated to the Western Kentucky University Library. The note says "Very old blue-on-white resist print. F. Peto. For your collection. Happy Easter!"

Here are some reproduction fabrics imitating China-blue style with blue figures on white grounds.

A sofa upholstered in indigo-resist reproduction from Ikea

To see more reproductions do a websearch for the words: fabric indigo resist.

To see more about the quilt collection at Western Kentucky University click here for their online exhibit

And see how indigo yarn is dyed in a recent dyeing workshop in the Navajo nation by clicking here:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Reproduction Quilt Bloggers

A few weeks ago I asked for suggestions for reproduction quilt blogs. Readers came up with many, particularly in Europe. I spent a lot of time scrolling; learned a lot, even if I couldn't always read the language. I now know how to enlarge a photo in html code and how to make a whoopee pie, a New England delicacy I didn't even know existed until last summer.

Here is the list:

One of the Mary Mannakee blocks from Deb's "Needles, Sticks & Hooks" blog

Deb's working on several series quilts including the Mary Mannakee quilt. To see what the Mary Mannakee quilt looks like (it's a signed album quilt in the collection of the Museum of the Daughters of the American Revolution) do an images web search for the three words Mary Mannakee quilt. Everybody's doing it.
Buy a pattern at the gift shop at the Museum of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Laurie at a Yankee Quilter:

Vicki and Jan: "Quilt Buds Share a Blog"

Jan in Chicago:

Lori in Oregon:


Priscilla's Workshop:
Here's a gallery of her reproductions. She's just finished the Bird of Paradise (Civil War Bride) quilt.

Reproduction from Embruns et Petit Points
 Mamifluer's Embruns et Petit Points:
See her posts on an Exposition de copies d'anciens in May 2009 (My translation: A Show of copies of old things)(?)

String quilt from Quiltfuchs
From Germany

From the Netherlands

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paisley Prints

No Civil War reproduction line would be complete without a paisley print. My new Civil War Homefront features a paisley set in a neat grid, design that was fashionable in the early 1860s. In keeping with the theme of make-do recipes the print is called "Cracker Pie."

Paisley, like so much of Western fabric design, is an adaptation of traditional Indian textile pattern. The figures were found in cashmere shawls, which England’s East Indian Company began importing in the mid-eighteenth century. Hand-woven Kashmiri shawls became a fashion rage among the truly wealthy, a wearable status symbol. One shawl might cost the equivalent of a London house.

Paisley, Scotland

The industrial revolution was all about factories imitating handwork. By 1840, European factories were imitating shawls on automated Jacquard looms. The best were made in the town of Paisley, on the west coast of Scotland. The original Indian shawls featured a good deal of white, but Europeans preferred wools dyed in shades of madder browns ranging from dark chocolates to orangey reds, so the later manufactured shawls were darker than the Kashmiri originals. Factory-made shawls were priced in reach of the new middle-classes, and in the mid-nineteenth century everyone wore them.

This woman, wife of an English war veteran, wears a factory-made shawl in a photograph from about 1860.
The characteristic figure in the shawls was a stylized botanical form, an oval shape with a curl on the end, known as a botha or boteh (from the Hindi buta for flower). The botanical source for the boteh design is in some dispute. Textile historians see it as a pinecone, a gourd or the shoot of a date palm.

An Indian wood block featuring three boteh figures

The cone shape came to be known as a paisley after the Scots town and was a popular figure in cotton prints. During the 1860s and '70s paisleys in madder-style colors---warm, reddish-browns---were particularly fashionable for robes and quilts for the up-to-date boudoir.

Read more about paisley prints in my book America's Printed Fabrics: 1770-1890.

Click here to read an online article about paisley: Beyond the Fringe by Meg Andrews
And see a Scottish design for a paisley: http://www.archiveshub.ac.uk/textiles-paisley.shtml

The Museum of Printed Textiles in Mulhouse, France has a new exhibit on paisley and cashmere shawls opening this month. Dreams of Cashmere, Cashmeres of dreams: The Cashmere Shawls printed in Alsace in 19th century will be up until October 31, 2010. Click here to read more about the exhibit:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hewson Textiles and Cuesta's Lists

John Hewson was a fabric printer in Philadelphia from 1774 to about 1810. He is best known for panels featuring a a floral bouquet in a footed urn surrounded by butterflies and birds. The panels were popular enough that many have survived in quilts and coverlets.

In 1999 I corresponded with a New Mexico family that inherited a previously undocumented quilt with a Hewson panel. I should have rushed to New Mexico when I received a snapshot in the mail ten years ago and photographed that quilt in better light on a quilt rack, but I didn't. Later efforts to find it have been futile. My correspondent has since died, but she knew it was a Hewson panel and I am optimistic the quilt is in good hands. As far as I know, this is the first time the quilt has been published.

Toile quilt with Hewson panel. Estimated date: 1780-1810. The panel is set in a border of faded pink calico triangles with Hewson birds in the corners. The outer border is a pink toile, a large-scale aborescent (tree) print with birds.

At the American Quilt Study Group seminar last month I organized a roundtable discussion about John Hewson and America's Earliest Calico Printers. You can read the handouts describing Hewson's legend and life and lists of the other printers on my webpage. There are also links to pictures of several Hewson quilts in museum collections. Here's a link to my page on Quilt History.

Quilt historian Cuesta Benberry loved making lists and she kept an ongoing index of Hewson quilts. The last list I find in her correspondence, dated 1994, listed 17 Hewson textiles, far more objects than attributed to any other eighteenth-century American manufacturer. In 2008 Kimberly Wulfert published her list of 28 surviving textiles attributed to Hewson.

The pictured toile quilt brings the number of attributions to 29. At the AQSG meeting a friend mentioned she had recently noticed a quilt with a panel in a museum collection, where the staff were unaware of the fabric's origins. This makes 30 Hewson textiles. Cuesta would have been thrilled to add to her list.

Cuesta Benberry in 2006 with a Pineburr quilt at the St. Louis Art Museum

Click here to see a Hewson quilt in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Museum at Michigan State University will open an exhibit about Cuesta Benberry's research called Unpacking Collections: The Legacy of Cuesta Benberry, An African American Quilt Scholar on December 6, 2009. Their website describes it: "An overview of the collections of one of America's important collector/scholars ... a selection of textiles, rare books, patterns, ephemera, and samples of her personal journals, correspondence, and extensive research files." After this installation in the Heritage Gallery the exhibit will begin a national tour. Click here for information:


Kimberly Wulfert has a page on her website devoted to Hewson. Click here:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Prussian Blue

Detail of a cotton print that can be classified as a printed plaid, a stripe and a rainbow print. Estimated date: 1840-1860

Over the past few years I've been saving photos of Prussian blue prints like the one above from online auctions. I'm especially interested in quilts with dates inscribed on them. I have quite a few details of Prussian blue prints in quilts inscribed from 1846 to 1868. See below for photos in order of date.
Prussian blue is a dye process. It's also a bright royal blue color produced by that dye, often combined with a buff or tan. The blues are printed in various styles including brilliant rainbow or fondu prints, double blues, plaids and stripes.

Looking at these 9 examples (I didn't see any earlier or later) I can conclude that distinctive rainbow prints, large scale plaids and stripes in Prussian blue were quite the fashion from the mid 1840s to the 1860s, as were the blue and buff combination prints.

When I make these lists of dated quilts I usually throw out the earliest and the latest examples. The earliest example may have been misdated later by someone other than the maker and the lastest example may have been old fabric or blocks put together later. The list is then 7 quilts from 1846 to 1858, twelve years of a fad. The information helps in dating quilts with these fabrics, which to be safe I would say tend to date from 1840 to 1860.

I corroborated these dates by looking in the catalogs of Baltimore album quilts, which include a lot of Prussian blue rainbow prints. I didn't find any Baltimore albums with the graduated blue prints outside this date range.

Note the dates are below each photo.









Friday, November 6, 2009

The Polka Dot Club

"The Polka Dot Club, Larned, Kansas"

I've always had a thing for polkadots. Terry Thompson gave me this photo for Christmas a few years ago. I'd guess it's about 1900.

My sister restrained me from buying a polka dot couch once, probably a good thing, but nobody can stop me from buying dotted fabric. Here's a snapshot of a quilt I made for a 4 year old. Every print is a dot.

The other day my cousin sent me a scan of a photo of her mother, the most glamorous woman I personally knew as a kid. I don't think the ladies of Larned would ask my Aunt to join their Polka Dot Club. But I think I'd rather be in hers.

My Aunt Kay in 1945
(She appears to be camping out.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Civil War Uniforms or Not

There are a few questions I'm asked on a regular basis. One FAQ (frequently asked question) concerns wool comforters made from Civil War uniforms. A typical query might read like the description of the quilt above from an eBay posting a few months ago.

" This is a very nice old quilt that I am told is a Mourning Quilt. The quilt measures 90” x 70” and is extremely heavy. The top is made of pieces of men's clothing. Some of the pieces are said to be pieces of a uniform worn in the civil war."

The bidding started on that quilt at $37 which seems a reasonable price for a nicely embroidered comforter in good shape.

Not so reasonably priced are similar quilts purchased for $450 or more, purported to be pieced of Civil War uniforms. The writer who's paid this amount wants to know if I can confirm a Civil War provenance. And what is the quilt worth?

I don't do appraisals but I can usually confirm that the buyer has been taken.

These embroidered, tied wool quilts are very common. I did a search on eBay in late October and found 13 examples for sale that day with bidding ranging from $9.99 for a top to $285 (for a crib-size). They varied in skill level, detail and condition, but all were squares and/or rectangles of subdued wools.

Many were embroidered and some were finished with ties on the top.

It's easy to see why one might think these are Civil War uniforms. The fabrics are so often blue and gray.

Here are a few things to remember when considering a quilt supposedly made of Civil War uniforms.

1. Without some strong family history or other corroboration, the story is very likely to be false.

2. If there is strong evidence, consult an expert on Civil War uniforms rather than a quilt expert, as most of us are not experts on army uniforms.

3. While many Union soldiers wore uniforms of some consistent design and fabric in navy blue, Confederates wore diverse clothing of diverse fabrics, from butternut brown to Confederate "gray" to everyday clothing.

4. Confederate gray is not what we would call gray, which is a colorless pale shade of black. The Confederate uniforms I have see are what I would call blue, a pale blue wool. I have seen only a few, but the pictures here look to be made of wool fabric woven of blue and white warps and wefts, the kind of cloth we still call jeans. The dark blue yarn (probably dyed with indigo or Prussian blue) crossed with a white yarn gives a pale blue effect.

The comforters in question were made about 1890-1930, often from wool samples torn from sample books. See a book below.