Monday, October 21, 2013

Celebrating Cretonne

Chicken Cretonne with Chinoiserie Cretonne
Detail of a quilt by an unknown maker
at the Helen F. Spencer Museum of Art.

I've been looking at the quilts at the Spencer Museum for 45 years or
so. This particular quilt, sort of a square in a square, was a puzzle for a long time.

At first we classified it as a chintz quilt and thought
it was early 19th century.

But as we amateur curators saw more quilts over the years
we realized the large-scale furnishing prints
were better classified as cretonnes
and better dated as 1880-1910.

See this post about differentiating between chintzes and later cretonnes.

I thought the comforter (it isn't quilted) was one-of-a kind. You just don't often see cretonnes celebrated like this. But then I saw one that dealer Julie Silber had in the Quilt Complex collection. 

Circus Crazy Quilt
Collection of the Quilt Complex

More of a string quilt
or a crazy quilt, theirs
 has some of the same prints.

Quilt Complex's has a circus
performer in red. 

Spencer's has the circus performer in a brown

Once I started collecting pictures from
online auctions I realized these weren't the only
two quilts in the style. Here are a few others.


What makes this a style is the emphasis on large-scale prints. Most quilters in the 1870-1910 period were interested in tiny prints. Cretonnes usually wound up on the back rather than the front.

Alternating squares with a scalloped edge

A medallion framing a scene from dealer Stella Rubin.

Stella also has this crib quilt in her online store

And this postage-stamp-sized triangle with a cretonne center.

Collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
I found some in Museum collections.

Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We might think of these as the antithesis of modern.
They are nostalgic, busy---if not chaotic--- sentimental and full of
non-essential decorative details.

I'll show some of those decorative details in a later post.

Here are links to the Museums' quilts.

Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Helen F. Spencer Museum of Art


  1. Rubin's medallion Is to die for. Love everything about it. And the cretonne fabrics are amazing... I want some!

  2. I really hope that the chicken with the top knot shows up in one of your fabric collections soon! I'd buy a bolt and I don't even like chickens!

  3. What great quilts! Thanks for the excellent information!!

  4. Cretonne or Chintz - I'm loving these quilts. The quilt from the Boston MFA is so interesting with all the pictorial fabrics and that lively wonderful floral border. I can't zoom in enough on it!

  5. I love how they used larger prints with decoration to enhance their quilts. I have seen some new ones with americana prints as a center block, would be fun to try one.


  6. Love these antique quilts ... what I like best in older quilts is the freedom from "the musts" we have imposed on ourselves these days.
    Have personally seen and handled gorgeous quilts of yesterday that wouldn't make it into a judged quilt show! Let alone win a ribbon! Clipped points, odd pieced corners etc --- so free. Just love that part.

    Thanks for posting these Barbara

  7. Well done Barbara Brackman!!
    Thank you!

  8. Well done Barbara Brackman!!
    Thank you!