Saturday, September 18, 2010

Turkey Red

Nineteenth-century American quilters loved Turkey Red cotton.

The combination of Pennsylvania German taste, Anglo-American applique and the new availability of the bright red imported cottons created new quilt styles in the early 1840s.

Album quilts with signatures and stamped names were fashionable in Turkey red prints.

Applique of Turkey red, green prints on white became an enormous fad.

The dyestuff for the bright red cotton is madder root but the Turkey red process that resulted in an intense red was more complex than traditional madder's mordant dyeing, which produced a flatter brownish red. The name Turkey red comes from the Turkish or Ottoman Empire, the Middle East, where traditional dyers developed the process. Turkey red came to Western Europe in the 18th century after French and British dyers sent emissaries east to learn the process.

Quilters used Turkey red plain cottons and Turkey red prints.

 Red on white quilts with plain Turkey red are hard to date because quilters made them from 1840 to 1950.
The Quilt Detective has to rely on other clues like quilting, borders, patterns.
Turkey red fabric with a printed design is easier to date. Prints with Turkey red grounds and figures of yellow, green and a blackish brown (and sometimes blue) were popular with American quilters from about 1840 to 1870.
Prints with black or white or both on a red ground tend to be after 1870.
June sent this photo of a feathered star. The center reds are very much like the print above.
Typical of about 1880 or later.

More on Turkey Red basics in a later post.


  1. I love this post! Red is the favorite color of this 21st century quilter LOL! Your comment about the Pennsylvania German taste is interesting to me, could you expand a little on what their taste was and the basis of that taste, what it developed from?

  2. oh a turkey red applique quilt nothing better in mho
    wish more of these antique fabrics would be reproduced ! love that one with the black beautiful.
    I am drawn to PA dutch quilts as well, they are just happy quilts and those pinks are to die for!

  3. I absolutely love these red, green and chartreuse fabrics. Think you could do a line of these? Oh, and some cheddar?

  4. I'd love some of the larger Turkey Red prints too, the later C19th ones... Gorgeous fabrics and, sadly, few modern reds really come close to that depth of colour.

  5. Living in Lancaster and belonging to a Quilt Study Group (novice level) I'm blessed to see several quilts made with the turkey red - just love them. Thank you for sharing these Barbara!

  6. Very interesting, than you

  7. Aside from absolutely loving these colors, this was a real fascinating post! Thank you. (it's also very inspiring and distracted me this weekend...)

  8. Another great post, thank you very much. I love the red/green appliques from days gone by. Definitely my favorites.