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.
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:
Red cottons streaking and abrading in the above fashion indicate the Turkey red dyeing process.
Do not wash Turkey red quilts in the washing machine.
Old quilts deserve hand washing.