Friday, September 30, 2011

Misdated Quilts

Dated quilts are helpful in training the Quilt Detective's eye.
But once in a while the date is wrong. This quilt, found in an online auction, is NOT from 1876.

The color scheme and the individual cottons offer good clues to the actual date when it was made---about 1890-1920.

Two of the easiest clues for a novice detective to learn are that the wine-colored red prints and the black-on- white prints above were a fad from about 1890-1920.  The red, which the dyers called cerise (French for cherry) and the marketers called claret, was quite popular around the turn of the last century. Characteristics are simple white figures on a wine-colored background.

The black and white prints (a true black) like the one above were not possible until about 1890 and were very fashionable in the first decades of the 20th century. This quilt, also recently in an online auction, is most likely 1890-1920. 
The pattern---Jacob's Ladder or Underground Railroad---was also very popular in the 1890-1920 decades.

Some of the fabrics, like a white dot on indigo, are no help in dating---too popular for too long. But the blacks and the wine-reds are excellent clues.

The black-and-white prints often read as gray. They were sometimes called mourning prints 100 years ago.

Someone (I'd guess the same someone) added the dates much later, probably using family history as the basis for her guess rather than any knowledge of when cotton prints were available. Another clue---black embroidery thread not used in the 1870s.

A very weak clue to date is the stitch used in both quilts. It's the way I embroider---what is that stitch??? A directionally-challenged chain stitch???

A better chain stitch that was probably actually embroidered in 1879

That crabbed stitch in black thread seems very "late-20th-century", but don't rely on that stitch as a basis for dating a quilt. Fabrics are your best clues. And the fabrics in the misdated quilts are 20 years later than the dates.


  1. I would have never known the difference;)
    I am trying to learn more about quilts just in case I find something in my travels, but around here people know the values of antiques, so most of the quilts in the consignments are from the 50's.


  2. Barbara - Thank you for this great lesson!! I just gave away a quilt with the date 1968 on it - I sure hope that was the real date!! Kris

  3. I have an engraved necklace that belonged to my great granny. It has her initials and 1881 on it. This was her birth year, certainly not the year the necklace was made. Do you think this was a way to mark on quilts with the person's initials and their birth year for identification? This could explain the initialed misdated quilt possibly. Very interesting.

  4. Thanks for the great post! Misdated quilts on eBay are always out there but It is good to know that you can not always trust the embroidered date! I have always believed that was the case and now I have an expert to refer to

  5. Thanks, Barbara, for all these wonderful tutorials on antique quilts. I've really been enjoying them, and learning a lot.