Lost Ship by Barbara Brackman, 2002
Bonnie bus asked:
How did repro fabric get to be so brown?
Unknown pattern, about 1890
Antique quilts were brown. There was a real fad for brown calicoes from about 1860-1890.
From my book America's Printed Fabrics 1770-1890:
Historian Lewis Mumford called the last years of the century The Brown Decades. “The color of American civilization abruptly changed. By the time the [Civil] war was over, browns had spread everywhere: mediocre drabs, dingy chocolate browns, sooty browns that beiged into black.” His perspective, looking backward, reveals a twentieth-century disdain for the color, but in the gilded age, the era of brownstone buildings, walnut furniture and chestnut-haired beauties, brown truly reigned.
We see two main shades of brown in the 19th-century color palette: reddish brown and greenish brown.
Sawtooth variation, about 1875 from Cowan's Auctions
Many of the reddish-browns, the warmer brown prints, were dyed with madder dye which produced dark browns, burnt oranges, peachy browns, tans, and cinnamon reds.
Madder-style prints were very popular from about 1860 to 1890, but we also see them in patchwork dating back to the 1780s.
The greenish-browns or khaki shades came from a synthetic dye that produced olive, bronze and cooler browns. This color palette appeared about 1875 and remained popular until about 1890.
Small star top using lavenders and bronzey browns about 1880
Pale blue and pink were often part of this bronze palette
After 1890 brown was passé and black, blue and gray quilts were the thing.
Four-patch, about 1910
When Mumford was writing about brown in 1931, it was considered hopelessly old fashioned. Quilters loved clear pastels and red and grayed green. But color fades in and out of style.
Hexagon medallion about 1940 from Laura Fisher
Brown quilts were again the thing in 1970. At the turn of the 21st century brown was the hot look in primitive, folky quilts.
Pomegranates and Berries by Jan Patek, 2008
Jan Patek's use of brown and her interpretation of antique quilts
has been quite influential in creating the "prim-folk look".
See her kit here:
In the central United States where I live everyone was crazy for brown--- brownish reds, brownish greens, flat blues, tan, tan, tan. There was no true white. We always said brown was a Christmas color. The brown fashion was one reason reproduction prints became so popular. The late-19th-century aesthetic shaped our taste.
Decorating magazine picture from about 1980
Union Square by Pamela Mayfield, 2001
Buy a copy of Pam's Union Square pattern here:
Taste changes and now everyone (like Bonnie) is talking color--- true, clear colors.
So all those browns, whether antique prints or turn of the 21st-century reproductions, might look dull to fans of chartreuse and shocking pink (a revival of the colors of the 1950s and '60s).
The brown color palette was just one style in the 19th century. There were plenty of other fashionable looks.
Basket about 1880
And today browns remain important as authentic reproductions. Without browns, reproduction quilters would be at a loss. Plus those toned down colors are a great decorating palette. Brown is a classic neutral that goes well with wood.
Browns from my current Civil War Homefront collection for Moda
Triple Nine Patch by me and the Sew Whatever group, 2003
The pattern for this and the Lost Ship are in America's Printed Fabrics, which has some lovely brown quilts and fabric on the cover.