Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dots and Modernism

Here's another member of the Polka Dot club
Nancy Cunard photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1929.
You may recall this photo of "The Polka Dot Club" in Larned, Kansas about 1900.
See my blog post about a year ago by clicking here:

Tilly Losch by Beaton
Beaton probably used this photo backdrop in other portraits.
It's so-o-o modern.

This woman may not look like the height of fashion today but she was styling in the 1890s.
Dots were important in the modern age when circles symbolized the ideal of ornament as simple shape.

Bette Davis
All dots and lines

Circles are graphically appealing. They really grab you.
No name for this four patch with a larger circle in the center and smaller circle in the corners (or vice versa).

String quilt wheel, about 1900

These late 19th-century and 20th-century quilts fit right into our modern revival.

String quilt snowball about 1950

String quilt
The string quilts are a combination of nostalgic homespun and modern graphics.

I'm always drawn to these circular designs, most of them variations of a four-patch with a quarter circle. Above are a few sketches from my BlockBase program of the patterns numbered in the 1490s and 1500s.
Names include Full Moon, Snow Ball, Base Ball.

All of which reminds me: I have got to decide where to go with this Fireball top.
Bigger or border? It's about 48" x 60" now.

I've heard that if the circles are white in this string quilt variation it's a Snowball. If the circles are red it's a Fireball.

Friday, October 22, 2010


The Wall Street Journal reports that prices for raw cotton lately hit a 140-year high. During the last three months the price of our luxury good has risen over 50%.

A pound recently sold in the futures market for about $1.20, which doesn't seem that much, except that $1.198 is the highest price recorded since record-keeping began in 1870.

Memphis Cotton Brokers

Why is cotton so high in 2010? Supply and demand. Droughts that have ruined harvests in China and increasing demand from up-and-coming consumer societies nudge the prices up.

I doubt that comparing the price in 2010 and 1870 is good economics (or good reporting) since there doesn't seem to be adjustment for inflation in comparing prices. $1.70 in 1870 was a chunk of change.

But the important number is that the raw material increased 50% in cost in a few months...you can see where we are going.

This photo is actually captioned:
 "Picking cotton is one of the most easily learned occupations for women..."
Like the other period photos here it's from the collection of the Library of Congress.


I hate to inspire wide-spread panic or hoarding---but isn't that the duty of us bloggers? Don't quit your dayjobs yet. You might need some extra pocket money.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Document and Reproduction: Rose and Repeat

Document print for Rose
in my Moda collection Arnold's Attic

Here's a swatch from Arnold's Attic. He cut it from an old skirt that his great-great grandmother Mary Barbara wore in the 1890s when she was about 65 years old. You can barely see a seam on the right side of the swatch, indicating it was cut from a garment.

Arnold noted it was a Balmoral skirt, a style of full skirt fashionable in the 1860s. Mary Barbara probably wore the fashions of her youth late into the 19th century. A black print with a purple figure---conservative in color, yet fashionable in design---would have been appropriate for a lady on the shady side of middle age.

Arnold actually sent two swatches; the one stitched to the note is a fabric scrap leftover from the dress. It's brighter purple than the cotton that survived in the acutal garment, so Mary Barbara's original dress was a touch more flamboyant when she first wore it.

We used neither black nor purple in the Arnold's Attic reproduction collection but the print is perfect for the time period so we offer it in three colorways reflecting the autumn tones. The print name is Rose.

Women about 1880
Women didn't often have their pictures made with their aprons on. The apron fronts are pinned to the dress in typical fashion. One woman wears a stripe; the other a floral with a regular repeat that includes space between the figures and larger figures than would have been popular in the 1860s.

How is Mary Barbara's print perfect for later in the 19th century?
There are a few design characteristics. One is the naturalness of the drawing. Rather than a mere suggestion of a floral as in the reproduction from the mid-19th-century below, the figure in the Rose print is realistic enough that we might recognize it as a wild rose. It's a natural image whereas the figure below is just a suggestion of a floral, what was sometimes called a mignonette (a cute little thing).

Corn Shuck Hat from Civil War Homefront

This print from my Civil War Homefront collection with small floral mignonettes was the fashionable style when Mary Barbara was a young woman in the 1860s. One name for this formal grid style is a foulard print.
Another important style characteristic in fabric is the repeat, how the figure is formatted into identical motifs. All printed yardage requires that the pattern be repeated in regular fashion. The individual figures must fit into an overall pattern, which is sometimes obvious as in the Civil-War-era pattern above with a simple half-drop repeat. Each little figure is dropped next to another half way down. The overall look is a regular diagonal grid, a style of repeat that was hot in the 1860s.

Madonna print in Avon Brown

By the 1890s the fahionable repeat style was what textile designers call scattered. The repeat, like the floral figures, should look more natural than formal. The florals above are repeated in regular fashion, but not so obviously as in the foulard. Tricks to make the repeat look more natural are to add more space between the figures, and to flip and rotate the figures.

Magnolia print in Augusta Red

Joyce sent a photo of a wallhanging she made with the Arnold's Attic prints. Note how the different repeats catch your eye in different fashion. The rather formal leaf print on the outside border contrasts nicely with the loose curve in the patchwork.

Designing a fabric collection means offering several styles of repeat for contrast. Designing a reproduction collection means offering more regular foulards for an 1860s line and more scattered repeats for an 1890s line.

For more on repeat and how designers do it click here to see the Design Sponge blog:

Marit's posted a photo of a candlemat she made with a charm pack of Arnold's Attic
See her blog here:
See more about the Arnold's Attic collection by clicking here:

And check your local quilt shop for Arnold's Attic. Usually, shops have a hard time reordering designer prints but tell your shop owner that Moda has notified me there is lots of Arnold's Attic available for re-order.

Arnold's Attic in a strip quilt by Georgann Eglinski

Monday, October 18, 2010

Faded Greens

Double Irish Chain, about 1900
The quilter must have used Turkey red
in the bottom blocks and a new test-tube red cotton,
probably the unreliable Congo red, in the top.

Over the past few weeks I've showed antique quilts with faded reds, contrasting Turkey red, which doesn't fade, to the late-19th-century synthetic reds, which often fade to a salmon pink or tan.

A reader asked about green's tendency to fade too. Although cottons dyed with the natural process called Turkey red were reliable, cottons dyed green with natural dyes were very prone to change color.

In this 19th-century quilt the green sashing strips and border dyed with natural dyes were probably once true green, but have faded in typical fashion to lime green. The pineapple and foliage have faded in different fashion. Were they once red or green?

Detail of a quilt dated 1858 showing greens
dyed with natural dyes fading in a variety of ways

The usual method of obtaining the greens we see in antique quilts was to overdye blue and yellow.

Although nature is so green, vegetable and mineral dyes do not give us a practical green dye.

The most common method was to overdye two mineral dyes, Prussian blue and chrome yellow.  The major problem was that chrome yellow is more colorfast than Prussian blue and thus the greens often fade towards yellow, leaving a yellow-green.

Notice how much greener the leaf at bottom right is
on the back where the applique has come unstitched

People like to call that shade "poison green" today but a better name might be "overdyed green" or "overdyed green fading to yellow-green". For more about the poison greens of the 19th century click here:

When the dyer used an unreliable yellow with Prussian blue the yellow might completely fade away leaving random blue leaves and vines as in the quilt above.

Dyers were always looking for single-step greens and in the 1870s developed a synthetic dye that produced a dark, rich green, a teal or blue-green shade as in the quilt above.

But these early aniline greens were remarkably fugitive, bleeding away in water and fading away in light to a khaki or dun color. The star quilt  was probably folded with the edges exposed to more light.

If exposed to any kind of light the greens will continue to fade, a real shame since this quilt was so beautiful when the greens were new.

Imagine this Rocky Road to Kansas design when the khaki sashing was a deep blue-green.

Here is a digital sketch of what it once looked like.

And a digital recoloring on the right of a late 19th-century cockscomb where the green has faded.

Quilters working between 1875 and 1925 had access to few greens they could count on to remain green. Their distrust is reflected in their quilts. Fancy appliqu├ęs in red and green became a thing of the past in the 1890s and by 1910 were a rarity.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Football Around the World

Pieced Pigskin by Deb Rowden,
Quilted by Lori Kukuk, 2009, 25" x 25".
A gift for Deb's Dad

Deb's Dad Walt in 1950

Me and my brother about the same time
I watch a lot of football on TV. The one thing that fascinates me is how they put that colored line on the field digitally.

You can see I am a big fan.

But I do enjoy seeing how quilters turn sports images into quilts---either using sports-themed prints or  piecing or applique.
Football or Futbol

Here's a soccer quilt pattern pieced by Veline. See the pattern at The Pattern Company

Fleurette in South Africa posted some views of a quilt show on the theme Images of Sports held during the World Cup in July.

See her posts here with images of some clever sports designs:

A pattern for Deb's Pieced Pigskin is in my book Sew Into Sports: Quilts for the Fans in Your Life.
Morna McEver Golletz recently reviewed this in her email newsletter Professional Quilter Online.

Quilt historian Barbara Brackman is not a sportswoman, but that doesn't stop her from making sports-themed quilts for charities and for her nieces and nephews. She points out that the raffle quilts that brought in the most funds were autographed sports quilts, noting that combining the sports fans and quilt fans really multiplies your audience. One potential problem for quiltmakers is the sports fabrics, and here Barbara says to "think defense" and manage "your players." She includes eight projects suitable for the sports fans in your life. And, if you are interested in a charitable project, she's included tips for gathering signatures. I loved the "Slam Dunk Shoe Quilt" with its hightop basketball shoes and autographed soles.

See more about the International Association of Professional Quilters by clicking here:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unknown Patterns: Swirl in a Star & Pickles

Kate found these blocks on an online auction. She's guessing they might be 1920-30. With only solid fabrics to go by it's tough to date them. I'm not that familiar with that solid tan the color of a paper bag. The red LOOKS to be Turkey red, but that only can tell us 1840-1940.
I'd say early 20th century from the photos.

See her blog post at Empty Field by clicking here:

Pieced swirl, photo courtesy of Kathy Sullivan

Kate's mystery pattern is fascinating. It looks like there is no seam between the points and the inner swirl in half the arms. I've never seen it before but it does remind me of the pieced swirls in a post from last February. Click here:

And speaking of "complex patterns with curves done in solid fabrics, often in the South about 1900":
Here's an update on another mystery pattern I showed last June.

Karen Alexander had seen one on eBay a while ago and saved the picture. It looks to be Turkey red and white and like the others possibly early 20th century.
See the earlier post by clicking here:

Suzanne Antippas alerted me to one pictured in the 2001 Quilt Engagement Calendar. This may be the oldest. Dealer Stella Rubin estimated its age at 1860. With the vining border and red and green color scheme it looks typical of that era. She called it Rising Suns. See Stella's online antique shop by clicking here:

Linda Franz of Inklingo has drafted the pattern so you can print the templates on your fabric (or on freezer paper or template material if you prefer.) Click here to see more at Inklingo.

Linda's mock-up

She's calling it a clamshell pickle.
I have spent a few hours scrolling through the thousands of Southern quilts on the Quilt Index and found no examples. I did have a lot of fun, however.
It's easy to scroll through the pictures using their new Grid display method of 60 thumbnail photos per page.
Go to this page in the Quilt Index
Choose Collection, say West Virginia Heritage Quilt Search. Choose Display Method: Grid.
Hours of entertainment!
But no swirly stars or clamshells with points.