Thursday, September 30, 2010

Modernism and Ornament

Quilt, about 1900

Our ideas about modernism focus on simple geometric shapes.

Quilt, about 1950

 During the early 20th century, German artists organized the Bauhaus, an art school based on strict principles of design, a reaction to the Craftsman movement and Art Nouveau with their reverence for the natural line and the handmade object.  Bauhaus principles emphasized that form must follow function. Design in the modern world should be created for mass manufacture.

Bauhaus aesthetics took direction from ideas such as Adolf Loos' 1908 manifesto Ornament and Crime, which foreshadowed architecture inspired by the unadorned box.

The Bauhaus in Germany

Like another trend setter Elsie DeWoolf, Adolf Loos may have had a bad childhood experience with the wallpaper.

Bauhaus ballet, costumes by Oscar Schlemmer, 1926
Too bad this fashion didn't catch on. Simple shapes CAN be figure flattering.

Model wearing a mask by Schlemmer in a Bauhaus chair by Marcel Breuer
The human face reduced to acceptable ornament.

Textile Design by Sonia DeLaunay, 1930

Acceptable ornament included the basic shapes of circle, square and triangle in primary colors.


'Patchwork' by Sonia Delauney
Folk art such as quilts influenced the modern designers

Patchwork dress by Sonia Delaunay, 1913

 Good Design Exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1952
European modernism became the accepted standard for architecture and interiors.

My generation of Baby Boomers rejected the visual rules of International Style, one reason we were so drawn to crazy quilts and Art Nouveau. But taste changes; style swings between the curved line and the straight line...

between shelves full of doo-dads and the unadorned wall.

I'm still a big fan of ornament, however. A few salt-and-peppers never hurt any decor.

But I digress. The point here is quilts and modernism. It's always entertaining to draw parallels between the two. Below three quilts from about 1900.

Read more about the Bauhaus and those enemies of ornament.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Intepreting Old Patterns

Here's a quilt advertised in the past year or so on an online auction as a "Birthday Cake."
Does that say Dad in the lower right hand corner with a date of 1928?

I hate to spoil the party but the pattern was not meant to be the least bit festive.

It appeared in the Ohio Farmer magazine about 1890 with the name "The Monument." It was a memorial pattern. You could put Dad's name in there and the date he died.

Here's another one recently advertised as a "Birthday Cake."
The quilt top looks to date from about 1900 when the maker might have had access to the magazine with the design.
Or the pattern may have been passed around and modified a bit.

Here's one in somber tones, a slight variation with a curved top to the grave stone.
Quite a few were made.

Skinner Auctions advertised this one as Wedding Cake or Garfield's Monument

The blue and white example, again from about 1900, is based on another published pattern.
The Ladies' Art Company sold quilt patterns in the 1890s and called this one "Garfield's Monument."

It commemorated President James Garfield who was assassinated in 1881.
The patchwork pattern may have been inspired by his tomb and monument in Ohio.

It's always easy to interpret quilts through our own culture and forget about the culture of the past.

Garfield's death was, as we can imagine, a traumatic national event.
See another "Garfield's Monument" quilt in the Quilt Index by clicking here:

Birthday Cake by Bobbi Finley, 2009
Designed by Barbara Brackman
Not that a birthday cake quilt is a bad idea.

Just don't jump to conclusions in interpreting long-ago quilters' intent.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bolt Labels

A few months ago I wrote about bolt labels, the paper labels that used to appear on yardage to identify the source and the number of yards in the bolt.

I've collected some of these on the fabric

I found some of these in the Library of Congress photo files

Some of the Manchester labels are from New Hampshire; others from England

See more English examples by clicking here:

Bolt labels have been replaced (for the most part) by selvage identifications.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More on Turkey Red

Quilt date-inscribed 1845
Turkey red cotton was expensive due to the complexity of the dyeing process,
which involved many steps and some caustic chemicals.

But quilters knew it was smart to pay extra for Turkey red. In the quilt above, from about 1900, the Turkey red stars have remained bright. Stars dyed with a newer synthetic dye have faded away or bled.

The reds probably looked identical to the quiltmaker when she was piecing this top, but water, sunlight and just time could fade synthetic reds to a salmon-colored pink.

Here's another example. These faded pinks combined with bright Turkey reds usually date to 1880-1920.

Identifying the dyestuff in a red fabric involves chemistry and physics way beyond the skill level of the average Quilt Detective. But the durability of the red color in quilts (such as the three above) indicates that the bright red cottons were likely dyed with Turkey red.

Turkey red also has a distinctive wearing pattern. Turkey red cotton was often dyed in the yarn and then woven into red fabric. The color is durable but the process caused the yarns to wear, revealing the inner white yarn shaft. Notice the white streaks in the mid-19th-century applique above. More wear will worsen the problem.

Abrasion is the major cause of Turkey reds tendering (the textile term for rotting or shredding). Abrasion is caused by use and washing in particular. The Turkey red and the other cottons in this mid-19th-century applique above are shredding due to abrasion.

Washing has caused the greens to fade and the reds to shred in the mid-19th-century applique above.
Turkey red is often the first fabric to deteriorate because the dye process is so hard on the cotton.

Two lessons here:

  1. Red cottons streaking and abrading in the above fashion indicate the Turkey red dyeing process.

  2.  Do not wash Turkey red quilts in the washing machine.

Old quilts deserve hand washing.