Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Modern Quilts- Style Change and Ditsies

King Solomon's Temple quilt top. Estimated date 1900-1920

How did the quilt style above, so typical of the first twenty years of the twentieth century, evolve into the quilt below, the standard in the years 1930-1950? Quilt historians looking back at the twentieth century have tended to explain those style and color differences by saying, "Change happens."

Sky Rocket. Estimated date 1930-1940

I had a feeling that fabric styles---like the mysterious coneheads of Saturday Night Live---came vaguely from France. For my book Making History: Quilts & Fabrics from 1890-1970 I began reading about fashion in Europe, a journey that took me from Paris back to Glasgow and Vienna.

Quilt style changes due to trends in technology, trade and taste. The key to taste here is the arrival of modernism, an aesthetic movement in the visual arts, literature, architecture and music.

Fashion illustration, a hand-colored pochoir,
featuring clothing design by Fench couturier Paul Poiret (1879-1944).
The illustration by George Lepape is--- like the outfit--- a small masterpiece of modernism.

 It's hard to imagine how innovative and up-to-date
this Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt appeared in the 1930s when it was new.

Many dismiss the "Thirties Quilt" as rather dull, referring to the bright prints with their minimalistic flowers as apron fabric or housedress prints. But there was a time when these "ditsy" prints were the height of sophistication.

Kit for a minimalist applique floral. Estimated date 1940-1960. 
The appliqued flower design and the floral prints are both what we could call ditsies. Ditsy is a term in the fabric industry for a small figured print with an image that suggests a floral. Ditsy has negative connotations (dumb or inconsequential might be synonyms) but 75 to a hundred years ago a minimalistic floral was IT.

Poster by Viennese designer Koloman Moser (1868-1918), an influential modernist.

Below: Ditsy floral appliqued and embroidered to a dish towel, estimated date 1930-1945

Another Poirot/Lepape collaboration, 1913. 
"Hobble skirt" design with tunic of ditsy flowers by the King of Fashion,
illustration by Georges Lepape (1887-1971)

Model in a dress by Paquin. Photo from the Library of Congress.
Lepape's illustrations made modern fashion
 more graceful than it appeared in real life.
Note the ditsy roses on her hat.

Reproduction prints by American Jane for Moda. 
Flowers composed of simple shapes capture the fashionable mid-century look.

Eveline Foland's design for a Sunbonnet Sue pattern
in the Kansas City Star featured a ditsy floral.

See an online exhibit from the Metropolitan Museum of Art about the King of Fashion, Paul Poiret:
On this page, scroll down to the bottom and click on past exhibitions and then see the search box for exhibits by department. Click and pick the menu item for Costume Institute and then click on the Poiret show. Or just do a web search for King Fashion Poiret.
See more about Viennese modern textile design at the Textile Museum's online exhibit:

Read more about modernism and American quilts in my book Making History.
Click here:
Scroll down to the bottom of the page. Click on the "Search Inside Google Preview" icon. Do a search for the word Poiret. Click next.


  1. Barbara
    I am so pleased to see you are showing quilts from the early 1900s to mid 1900s. So enjoy the reproduction fabrics of this era and am always happy to learn even more about them ... and the quilt patterns.
    Living in TN I still see many of these old quilts being used daily. Many more are treasured as 'Mamaw's old Dutch Doll quilt" etc.

  2. Ilove those old quilts and am excited to see your finished one.. I have never had the desire for that piecing.. But they are beautiful examples..
    I have a picture of one I would like you to see if I could have your email? It is very nice and I saw it in Mt. Vernon, Il.

  3. Brenda was inspired by the kit above to make a version in hand dyed fabrics. Paste this address into your search engine.


  4. I need a quilt block identified for a neighbor here is the link where the photo can be found. If you know its name can you just post it to that link thank you in advance