Monday, May 31, 2010

Quilts and the Modern Movement

Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton, 1932.
Dress by Adrian. 

Movie set and costume design introduced modern emphasis
 on line, shape and contrast into American taste.
Adrian's dresses often included flat geometric shapes.

Modern is a strange word in that it means both current and past at the same time. Modernism was an early 20th century art movement---modern is up-to-date.

Carol Gilham Jones, Free Form Circles, 2008
Simple geometrics repeated---a hallmark of Modernism

The most up-to-date thing in quilts today is the Modern Quilt. Yet we can look at the trend as a reflection of the past---a movement that has roots in the early 19th century when the "modern era" began---the years of the industrial revolution and political rebellion against traditional religion and monarchic states.

Rain, Steam & Speed: The Great Western Railway, 1844
by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851)

New attitudes about art accompanied new concepts in science and philosophy. Artists who had used tools of line, shape and color to imitate nature now saw line, shape and color as valuable in themselves. J.M.W. Turner's 1844 painting above abstracted the new railroads into rain, steam, speed, color and line.

Cocktail by Gerald Murphy, 1927
Oil painting

The modern art movement in the early 20th century emphasized shape and flat planes of color.

Elektrische Prismen, by Sonia Delaunay, 1914
Oil Painting

European designers like Anni Fleschman Albers and Sonia Delaunay adapted modern design to textiles.

Weaving by Anni Albers, 1926
Modernists looked to folk arts like stencilled decorations and folk weavings for inspiration. Folk art and ethnic arts took on new value as artists imitated their use of color and abstraction.

Detail of a log cabin quilt, about 1880

Chinese Coins, about 1900
We can imagine how fresh these 19th-century American quilts must have looked to people who grew up in the visual clutter of the Victorian era.

Patchwork 1908

Reel quilt, about 1850

Mennonite sawtooth medallion, about 1900

Detail pieced floral about 1850

It's easy to find parallels between 20th century modern art and 19th century quilts, but it isn't coincidence. Modern artists found much inspiration in folk arts.

Find inspiration in Anni Albers weavings at the Albers Foundation:
Read more about Sonia Delaunay's textiles at the Textile Blog

Read more about modern quilts in my February post:

Fleamarket Fancy by Denyse Schmidt
About 2005

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bolt Stamps, Bolt Labels and Selvages

Kathy from New York had a question about a Double Irish Chain quilt top:

I recently received a red and muslin quilt top, it is all hand pieced. It has a marking on the backside of one muslin piece- it says "finished soft for the sewing machine" and there is a picture of a woman at a sewing machine. I am trying to learn where this stamp came from and that may help date the quilt. The person that gave me the quilt top knew nothing about its origin.
The stamp is probably a "bolt stamp," a textile mill identification device.

Today we identify our prints on the selvage edge with words and logos printed on the fabric.

The marking system was similar in the 18th century as in this piece of furnishing chintz
which probably reads "Printed in xxxx" on the left.

Here's a bolt stamp from about 1800 that is more legible.
Under the crown it says "British Manufactory"

This one identifies the Ovey shop in London.

Bolt stamps were also applied in places other than the selvage, often by wood blocks with copper wire additions for detail in the most elaborate logos. Bolt stamps applied other than in the selvage worked best on plain white cotton, manufactured at a bleachery. The Bolton Museum in Lancashire, England has several collections of bleacher's bolt stamp prints, the earliest dating to the 1830's-'40s. Bolt stamps seem to have fallen out of use in the mid-20th century, possibly because of the labor expense in making them.

The Museum website also mentions:

Small stamps, called "truth marks"…placed at the cloth end. If the truth mark was missing, then it meant the cloth had been cut down.
Read more about the Bolton Museum's archives here:

So Kathy's stamp looks to be a bolt stamp from a bleachery. It's hard to date quilt tops that are just Turkey red and white, but they were quite popular from about 1880 to 1910. The fabric certainly had to be after the spread of the sewing machine which began about 1845.

During much of the 19th century mills also identified themselves with paper labels on prints

As color lithography advanced these bolt labels became quite elaborate.

Read more about bolt labels here at the Bolton Museums website

Bolt labels continued into the 20th century....

...until words on the selvage edge became the standard again.
Here's a piece of Ely & Walker's Quadriga Cloth from the mid-20th-century.

Collecting vintage bolt labels and bolt stamps is a nice specialization for the fabric collector.

You may be familiar with the current fashion for selvage quilts. Karen Griska is encouraging "extreme scrap quilting" with trimmed selvages.

Fan quilt by Karen Griska
See her blog

May Britt's block
See her blog:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Crocheted Tools

My friend Nadra Dangerfield has a wonderful sense of the third dimension.

She can crochet anything.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sewing Diaries

Page from Barbara Johnson's album
or sewing diary

A sewing diary is a bound journal documenting fabrics, fashion and sewing projects. I've seen a few in museum collections and I know of a few you can see online.

They are personal swatch books with notes on when and where fabric was purchased, the price, what kind of dress was made with it and sometimes where the dress was worn.

Swatch book from a French manufacturer showing madder-style prints

They differ from swatch books or sample books like the one above in that sewing diaries are kept by the consumer. Swatch books are kept by the manufacturer as a record of what's been printed.

The Victoria and Albert Museum owns a sewing diary created by Barbara Johnson (1738-1825) who began her journal when she was 8 years old and continued pasting in swatches into her 80s. As you can imagine, it's a valuable record of cloth and fashion in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Page from Barbara Johnson's book
At the top she's written:
"Blue and white spotted lutestring [silk] negligee [dress]. Eighteen yards. Three quarters wide. Six and sixpence a yard. Brother Johnson's Birthday."

View it in the V&A Museum's online catalog by clicking here:

You can see she's pasted fashion plates and swatches into a used ledger. They call it an album. You can also classify it as a form of scrapbook.

The Museum printed a facsimile called A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics in 1987. It cost about $100 new and now brings $200-$500. (This book is probably going to remain quite valuable as a collectible book.)

The fabric blog called True Up has a posting on Barbara Johnson's album.

The American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts owns several sewing diaries.

Click here to see one:

Ann Eliza Cunningham stitched fabric samples from 1841 to 1890 and made notes on the pages.

On the ATHM page you will see in the lower middle of the page a blue line with the subject Sewing Diaries.
Click on that and several will come up.

Last year the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection at The Ohio State University displayed Susan Hunter Beall's album inspired by Barbara Johnson's. The exhibit called The Sewer's Art: Quality, Fashion, and Economy showed Beall's relatively recent records of her art.

Click here to read more:

Home economics teachers used to stress this kind of record keeping. Do any of you keep a Sewing Diary?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hexagons and Susi's Reproduction

Reproduction by Susanne Richter-Antonijevic, 2010

Susi emails that she has finished the unquilted coverlet that reproduces a British medallion quilt from the mid-19th century. Great job and it only took her a few weeks.

Above Susi's reproduction; below the original.

Original British medallion, about 1830-1850

Above & below are the original, photographed a little overexposed when it was sold at Christie's in London

See Susi's blog here:

The use of those hexagon rosettes appliqued to the background is very British although we also see some examples in American quilts.

A few years ago some friends did a challenge that required them to make a reproduction medallion using hexagons somewhere. Here is Judy Severson's solution, a chain of rosettes in the border.

It looks like Cindy Vermillion Hamilton pieced her border but did some appliqued rosettes in the outer blocks for her entry.

I made some tiny hexagons out of my Hartfield collection of 1810 reproduction prints.
I like Cindy's idea of making florals with stems---which reminded me of a 19th-century block quilt my sister owns.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Quarter Log Cabin or Half a Log

Chocolate Covered Cherries by Edie McGinnis

When Edie McGinnis was planning her new book A Second Helping of "Desserts": More Sweet Quilts Using Precut Fabrics I showed her a photo of an old log cabin variation I'd been thinking of reproducing. She said she'd like to do it using Moda's Jelly Roll strips from my Civil War Homefront collection. I said "Go for it."

Keeping with her sweet theme she called it Chocolate Covered Cherries. Technically, this old quilt pattern, which seems to date back to the 1880s or so, should be called a quarter of a log cabin but in Gee's Bend, Alabama, the quilters who use it a lot have called it a Half a Log. Another name is Chevrons.

A Gee's Bend version

See two quilts by Alabama's African-American quilters from the Cargo collection at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum.

A top from about 1910

A top from about 1940
and a detail below

These variations with alternating dark and light logs are deceptively simple looking. The easiest way to get the effect is to do 45 degree seams like Edie did rather than the log construction.

The difficulty in keeping the pattern straight makes Roseanne's version of the old top above even more impressive.

Smithtown by Roseanne Smith
98 x 98
Roseanne used a lot of the Ragtime reproductions mentioned in my May 7th post. It's 2 different blocks alternated.

See a half a log of uneven strips by clicking here at Wanda Hanson's blog:
And see some of her other layouts here:


She's definitely having fun with this block.

Read more about A Second Helping by Edie McGinnis here:

One more Half a Log

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

William Morris Reproductions—Prints and Patterns

Ode to William Morris
by Ruth Berke
Designed by Patricia Cox

Ruth writes that she is looking for more William Morris reproduction fabrics. Can we ever get enough? She's taking a class from Patricia Cox who designed the above block and needs more fabric. I can see Ruth's used several prints from my first Morris Garden reproduction collection introduced about two years ago.

I am working on a third collection that will be in quilt shops in late fall. I'll be calling it A Morris Tapestry.

And Michele Hill, author of William Morris in Applique, writes on her blog that she will be doing a Morris-inspired line for In The Beginning Fabrics:

It will be very William Morris like (of course!) – not reproductions though – all new designs. And how wonderful that it is to be called “The Adelaide Collection” ....our home!
Here's Michele's blog post:
The Adelaide Collection will be shown at Quilt Market this week so ask your quilt shop owner to buy EVERYTHING William Morris that she sees.

Michele's new Australian book More William Morris Applique will be out soon.
She's used The Morris Workshop fabrics in the quilt shown in detail above.

More Morris Inspiration:

Carolyn More, William Morris Goes Aussie

Carolyn's sewing group all made quilts from this Shadow Box design they saw in an Australian magzine---a great way to use the 10" precuts that Moda calls Layer Cakes. Carolyn combined the fabrics from my Morris Workshop collection with a cheery blue batik. I think the pattern is from Mountain Peek.

Ode to William Morris by Patricia Cox
Here's Pat Cox's version of her pattern. Find out more by clicking here at her website:

And click here to see blogger Ann Marie's octagon quilt made with The Morris Workshop