Friday, January 1, 2010

One Hundred Years Ago

Time Travel
Let's imagine we wake up on New Year's Day a hundred years ago and make a New Year's Resolution to finish a quilt. What would be on our list of Have-To-Stitch for 1910?

Mother and daughter doing piece-work sewing in a New York City apartment. The calendar on the wall says 1910. Photo from the Library of Congress collection.

I keep a file of dated quilts I find on auctions online and I have just three date-inscribed 1910, all embroidered. The embroidered date above is from the crazy quilt below, not a fancy crazy, but one very typical of the early 20th century. The fabrics look to be cotton, wools and cotton-wool blends with no silks typical of earlier crazy quilts. Initials on the pieces make one think it might have been a friendship quilt in which various women signed their squares.

Another quilt date-inscribed 1910 (below)  is related to the crazy quilt fad. It might better be termed a string-pieced wool star with embroidery. It's fancier, an echo of the more lavish embroidery one would have seen about 1890. In those twenty years several things happened to create the look of the 1910 wool quilt. Most important was a trade embargo on imported silk from China. World trade definitely affects the look of quilts, and wars in China prevented western mills from obtaining silk. Americans responded with simpler crazy quilts made of wools and cottons. Another factor was the lowering of standards for hand work as the generation who grew up with a sewing machine in the house gave little value to exacting hand sewing.

 Below is a small star quilt in wools and wool blends. It's embroidered with that seam covering stitching so fashionable at the time. The T.W. who signed it used an old-fashioned cross-stitch style for her initials, but the more popular satin stitch for the date.

Crazy quilts and wool quilts wouldn't have been the only possibility on your list of quilts to make. You might have decided to finish your redwork embroidered quilt. Here's a quirky medallion style dated 1907.

 Pieced album quilts in blues, reds, grays, pinks and blacks were popular. Below is one dated 1911.

Another popular style was the two-color pieced quilt. Blue and white made the most of the variety of indigos available as in the two quilts below, an Ocean Wave dated 1907 in the quilting and an Irish Chain dated 1915.

Red and white quilts took advantage of the colorfast Turkey reds that didn't run like the newer synthetic red dyes. Below a sawtooth medallion dated 1908.

But the standard quilt was probably the scrappy blue, pieced quilt like this one dated 1908, probably made from a pattern distributed by Clara Stone who published quilt designs in magazines and a catalog. She called the larger star block Fish or Whirligig.

Quilters in 1910 had many pieced designs available through periodicals and catalogs and they made many but didn't date them. One thing that was probably not on your list (unless you lived in southeastern Pennsylvania) was an applique quilt. They were so-o-o 19th century.


  1. Thanks for this little piece of the past. It is wonderful that these have survived 100 YEARS!! Makes me wonder how the quilts of today will be preserved. Thanks for sharing. Have a happy day!

  2. Thanks again for sharing your wealth of knowledge. I wasn't aware of the silk embargo. You teach me so much, and with great illustrations.

  3. Wonderful quilts and great inspiration. My grandmother did crazy quilting and i would like to do some myself.


  4. It's so great to see these lovely old quilts and hear to talk about them!
    I just love these old patterns and story's'!
    Thanks for sharing you love with us!
    And a happy and quiltfull NewYear to you!
    Greetings from the Netherlands.

  5. Always enjoy your history lessions. Also, have been following some younger quilters to see new trends and style. Many younger quilters are going for crazy (intuitive) style blocks and strip piecing. I alway enjoy seeing the "latest" which always harkens back to something already made in the past. I also noticed that many of these young quilters have no knowledge of our rich quilt heritage or of the inventiveness of past american quilters.

  6. Those are beautiful quilts. THank you so much for sharing them and the information on them!

  7. Thanks for the textile history lesson...starting a quilt in 1910 and finishing it in 1915 like the blue and white onelooks to be my speed!

  8. I wish you a very happy, healthy and creative 2010.
    Thank you for showing all these beautiful quilts. I love their history.

  9. There is a very cool pieced quilt that could be described as a center medallion with the year 1910 embroidered in red. I just love this quilt, and I saw it in the book, Nebraska Quilts and Quiltmaker's by Patrica Crews and Ronald Nagule. Published by the University of Nebraska Press

  10. Those are beautiful quilts. THank you so much for sharing them and the information on them!