Monday, September 30, 2013

Cretonne vs. Chintz

Cretonne, about 1880
Chintz and cretonne are names for similar fabric, large-scale furnishing prints.

Chintz about 1840

They are really just synonyms, names popular for furnishing fabric at different times, with chintz the earlier word. Once "chintzy" became a synonym for cheap, the fabric marketers changed the name to cretonne.

Cretonne as a French word had a
sophisticated air about it.

The Quilt Detective has to learn the difference between the earlier furnishing prints and the later versions: chintzes and cretonnes.

Star quilt about 1830, sold at Pook & Pook auctioneers.

Star quilt about 1890
Photographed by Sue Garman at Houston Quilt Festival

A century ago in House Beautiful magazine, Virginia Robie  tried to explain the difference:

"The terms chintz and cretonne are often used interchangeably. Chintz is a cotton cloth, printed with flowers and other devices, in a number of different colors, while cretonne is a cotton cloth either plain or printed on one or both sides. Chintz is either glazed or unglazed: cretonne is always unglazed. Cretonne was originally a strong white fabric with warp of hemp and woof of flax. It was named from the village of Creton in Normandy."

Not much help.

I have seen late-19th and early-20th-century prints with a glaze.
I have seen very early 19th-century prints without the glaze (it washes out.)

Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish between an early chintz and a later cretonne is by the print style. 
Here are six clues to the date:

1) Furnishing fabrics printed in the first half of the 19th-century and earlier often have a white space between the background and the figure. See the "halo" in the above bird  print.

Late-19th century furnishing prints rarely have halos unless
the designer is trying to copy an earlier print.
The background and the figures register (overlap) quite neatly.

2) Earlier prints often have registration problems, in which the greens and blues in particular are printed a little off, so the leaf outline is a 1/4" or more away from the leaf.

Late-19th and early-20th century prints have
excellent registration.
unless the designer is copying an earlier style.

3) Early prints might have a figured background behind
the figure ---a fancy ground.
Later prints rarely have printed backgrounds.

4) Earlier prints often show over-printed greens in leaves and stems, that is, yellow and blue printed atop one another to make a green.

You don't see that overprinting in later cretonnes
and the greens are much more olive than blue-green or lime-green.

5) The drawing style in earlier prints tends to be simpler, often with a heavy outline.

The later cretonnes tend to more elaborate florals with
color defining the shape.

6) And the later prints have a tendency to be more mannered,

And  more sentimental....

See two other posts I've done about cretonne here:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Metropolitan Fair on the Web

Women at the Albany, New York, Sanitary Fair

Last season's Civil War reproduction that I did for Moda
was called Metropolitan Fair
after the Manhattan Sanitary Commission Fair during the Civil War.
I've found a few more photos illustrating the work that women did to
raise funds for field hospitals

Like this one at Gettysburg.

I'm always looking for interior photos of the Sanitary Fairs
which were held around the Union. Here's a stereographic photo of
some kind of an exhibition.

A Sanitary Commission Fair? Are those
quilts along the wall?
I enlarged that booth with the eagle.

It's a Sewing Machine vendor.
"Wheeler & Wilson Sewing Machines
Victorious at Paris 1867"
They are advertising a prize at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867.
So it's a post-Civil War fair...
But a nice view of a commercial booth.

I enjoyed doing all the research for Metropolitan Fair. And now while I am looking for photos of the Fair,
images of quilts made with the fabric come up. Below: Some I found on the web.

Denniele has been stitching the Grandmother's Choice
Block of the Week patterns in the fabric.
Many participants are doing a considerable amount of fussy-cutting
to great effect.

 See more here:

Kindred Quilts

Saw this on eBay

A Table Runner

This line works well with light prints.

Randi D used the big stripe for a border.

Floral Temple
in Metropolitan Fair
The reverse of the memento coin from the Ohio
Sanitary Fair shown above.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fabric Retailing: Pearl Street

Scrappy stars from about 1830

Pearl Street
(Most of the period drawings here
are from the collection of the New York Public Library.)

Soon after the War of 1812, New York was well on its way to becoming the largest city in the U.S., the leading port for imported goods, particularly dry goods and fabrics. Pearl Street in lower Manhattan was the center of the dry goods industry.

Arthur Tappan came from Massachusetts to make his fortune in cotton prints there after international trade was free from Napoleon's embargoes and wars. According to Tappan's biographer:

"The business was commenced soon after the treaty of peace with England in 1815. It was conducted successfully the first year; but in 1816 the importations so greatly exceeded the demand, and the country was so flooded with goods imported by American merchants or consigned by English manufacturers, that freshly imported cotton goods from England were sold by the package at thirty or more per cent less than cost and charges."

Tappan and others were ruined by the English fabric dumping (selling goods cheaper than they cost to produce), one reason we see so many similar prints in quilts of the late teens through 1840 period.

Two early-19th-century quilts with the same circular panel.
The one on the left shown at the Houston Quilt Festival
a few years ago. On the right: a medallion from Donna Stickovich's collection.

Donna's blog:

In 1834 Asa Greene published a book of his experiences in fabric retailing, The Perils of Pearl Street.

"My employer kept an extensive and fashionable dry goods establishment, which was much resorted to by.the ladies. He had acquired the reputation of selling cheap,.... if the fair customer does not purchase, she must at least beg a pattern. ... Thus the demand for samples becomes very great.... I verily believe, one half his goods were disposed of in gratuitous shreds and patches.

[Owner]:  Any thing else to-day?
[Shopper]: Let me see—why, yes, now I think of it, I'll take some patterns [swatches], both of the silk and calico, for a couple of cousins of mine from the country. They'll be delighted with them.
[Owner]:  Any thing else to day? Here's a new species of muslin—entirely a new style of goods—a superb article.
[Shopper]: It is beautiful I'll take some patterns of that, if you please—a large one for myself, and two smaller ones for my cousins.,

... before the first quarter had expired, he failed. Poor man! he fell a martyr to his excessive politeness. All he had left in his store, was a few odds and ends, strangely cut and notched by the practice of giving patterns."

What, do you suppose, happened to all those samples begged by shoppers who never bought anything?

Pearl Street today

Arthur Tappan & Co.
by Alexander Jackson Davis
Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tappan went into the silk business rather than selling Manchester cotton goods (printed in England) and made a fortune in Indian and French goods. [We presume he did not give many samples.] He built Arthur Tappan & Company on Pearl Street in the 1820s and was ready for the boom in internal trade brought by the Erie Canal..

Retailers from all over Young America came to Pearl Street to buy
their drygoods.

Erie Canal from New York to the Great Lakes

They shipped them home up the Hudson River to Albany, New York, and west along the rivers
and the Erie Canal to Lake Erie. The Erie Canal opened up the new western states and territories to the world's manufactured goods.

Pearl Street in the 1940s

Disaster struck Pearl Street on a cold January night in 1835. Philip Hone, whose son owned a drygoods  business there, described it in his diary:

"How [to] attempt to describe the most awful Fire calamity which has ever visited these United States?....Nearly one-half of the first ward is in ashes, five hundred to seven hundred stores, which with their contents are valued at $20,000,000 to $40,000,000, are now lying in an indistinguishable mass of ruins. There is not, perhaps, in the world the same space of ground covered by so great an amount of real and personal property as the scene of this dreadful conflagration....The fire originated in the store of Comstock & Adams, in Merchant street,— a narrow, crooked street, filled with high stores lately erected and occupied by dry-goods and hardware merchants, which led from Hanover to Pearl street.

We succeeded in getting out the stock of valuable dry goods, but they were put in the square, and in the course of the night our labours were rendered unavailing, for the fire reached and destroyed them, with a great part of all which were saved from the neighbouring stores; this part of Pearl street consisted of dry-goods stores, with stocks of immense value, of which little or nothing was saved."

The New York Herald published an eyewitness account by a man who climbed over the hot bricks to look at the only structure standing, a...

"single solitary wall that reared its head...On approaching, I read on the mutilated granite wall, "ARTH- TAP-N, 122 PE-L STREET." These were all the characters I could distinguish on the column. Two stories of this great wall were standing-the rest entirely in ruins. It was the only portion of a wall standing from the corner of Wall street to Hanover Square-for beyond that these are nothing but smoke, and fire, and dust."

Pearl Street in the 1860s

Arthur Tappan rebuilt, only to go broke later.

A calamity like the Great Fire of 1835 takes on new proportions when we consider all those bolts of fabric that went up in flames.
"Dreadful conflagration" indeed.