Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Seaweed Print: Document & Reproduction

Everybody's Favorite by Denniele Bohannon
Block 13 in the Grandmother's Choice Block of the Week.

Denniele used the smallest reproduction print in Metropolitan Fair as her neutral.
These small seaweed prints are great for contrast.

The document print

I just had a tiny swatch of the original antique print but the repeat is so small a two-inch square was enough. I liked the texture and the suggestion of a dot. The original was a rather faded purple I think---mid-19th-century lavenders often splotch to tan. We did it in the taupe-shade of gray at the top and as a dark blue and dark brown.

I've been calling it a scribble print in my notes. Its name in the collection is "Knickerbocker Kitchen." See why here:

But you could also call it a coral print or a seaweed print.

In my 1989 book Clues in the Calico I gave a few other names for this style of print:

"A common name today for the irregular wavy lines is 'seaweed print,' because they resemble marine growth. The name has nineteenth-century roots. In 1889 Lucy Larcom recalled a scrap of cotton as a 'delicate pink and brown sea-moss pattern on a white ground.' Another period name is parsley print, and one authority also uses the terms scribble, maze, web or network pattern for these fine-lined patterns."

Since then I found an 1811 reference in Florence M. Montgomery's Textiles in America, 1650-1870. She showed a swatch from Ackermann's Repository magazine in November, 1811 with print #2 at top right described as a "seaweed print."

Seaweed prints, like the strip on the right, were quite popular after the coming of the copper roller or cylinder technique for printing cotton in the early 19th century.

Coral print about 1860

Printers could get quite a lot of detail into a small repeat. Fashion loved the all-over, meandering look that contrasted nicely with stripes and regular dot-like prints.

Stripe of cracked ice, about 1830
There were variations, including a fad for cracked ice prints

Hexagons, about 1835

And broken twigs.
The strange twigs and cracked ice prints, so popular in the 1820s and '30s, became old-fashioned in the 1840s but the seaweed prints continued through the 1860s...

When the meandering look became rather out-of-date in general...

Madders and shirting prints from the 1870s and '80s

Replaced by a fashion for orderly geometrics. Stripes and regular repeats called foulards really took over after the Civil War.

You need meandering seaweed prints in your Civil-War-era quilts to contrast with the geometric styles, quite the look in the 1850-1870 period.

Little Red Schoolhouse
by Denniele Bohannon

Little Red Schoolhouse
by Becky Brown

Mother's Favorite
by Morgan Girl


  1. I will now be looking at that print with new eyes. I always thought is was a modern print, so never thought to put it in with my reproduction styles.


  2. I never knew these were called 'seaweed' prints. Funny because when I was learning to differentiate modern calicoes from 19th century calicoes, I often referred to the historical calicoes as being either 'seaweedy' or 'coral-esque- or 'amoeba-esque'.

  3. I never knew this was called a seaweed print either. I'm an interior designer and have used this type of print often so nice to know!

  4. Thanks for that interesting post. I find it a very useful print in reproduction quilt making.
    Every Stitch