Thursday, February 2, 2017

Southern Quilt Style: Cut From the Same Cloth

In Minneapolis today Feb 2nd, I am giving a talk: Cut from the Same Cloth: Dry Goods & Quilt Design at MIA, The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts

My theme will be how available fabric drives quilt style and design from Turkey red in the 1840s to Kaffe Fassett's new designs in our very recent past.

Many times we recognize a certain style visually but don't put it into words, something you have to do in a lecture. I sort pictures visually and then try to analyze verbally why I sorted that way.

I've been framing some characteristics of the quilts made of solid color cottons produced in Southern textile mills after the Civil War into the 20th century. Many of my photos are from on line auctions; several from the Quilt Index.

Particularly the North Carolina Project's files there.This style might have been popular in North Carolina because so many post-War fabric mills were located there.

Here's a quick summary of Southern, Post-War, Locally-Sourced, Plain-Colored Quilts.

Style Characteristics

1) Predominantly plain-colored fabrics, probably produced in Southern mills

From the Bingham Family, Tennessee

2) Often rather complex patchwork designs

3) Set on the square rather than on point, usually with sashing

Few have dates inscribed: S. Latham April 1890

This one attributed to the McCullock family of North Carolina, 1886

4) Triple strip sashing is often seen

5) Colors often seen: Plain Chrome Orange, brown, dark blue.

6) Fabric is often low-thread count, thin yarns: sleazy is the technical term

Cow Hollow Antiques
See in the left center that the blue border is almost transparent the fabric is so thin.

7) Dyes are often not colorfast, particularly, greens, although it's the chrome orange that's fading above.

8) Some are sandwiched with thick batting, which limits the quilting designs to utilitarian quilting or tying. (What color was that pale orange?)

9) You might see the knots on the top in the quilting.

10) Fan quilting was a typical pattern....

As in the quilt hanging behind this man from Arkansas.

But the majority are quilted in straight lines.

We don't want to overgeneralize here. Not all Southern quilts looked like this; not all these quilts are Southern quilts (most are not identified).

It's important to define the style because it helps date and identify quilts. Defining a style means there are a lot of fuzzy edges to the definition. And you always have outliers. Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

How do you tell a late-19th-century Pennsylvania solid color quilt from a late-19th-century North Carolina solid color quilt? (Style and patterns, color, quilting and backing)

If you are planning a plain-fabric repro for American Quilt Study Group's 2018 Quilt Study, you may have already considered a Southern quilt: complex pattern in solid colors with a lot of brown, blue and chrome orange:

AQSG 2018 Quilt Study:200 Years of Solid Color Quilts: Cultural and Regional Distinctions, 1800-2000

Sounds good to me. I wouldn't go all out though and look for sleazy fabric.


  1. As I was reading this post all I could think was, what a great topic and it goes so well this the AQSG 2018 Quilt Study on Solid Color Quilts. Then, how excited I was to see that is where you led us at the need of the post. Since the Quilt Study theme was announced at Seminar, I can't believe how much more I have noticed solid color quilts. They are everywhere. Thanks for giving the Quilt Study a plug!!
    2018 Quilt Study Co-Chair

  2. Barbara,
    My family is from Eastern North Carolina and we have several old utilitarian quilts that remind me much of your #8 in this post. They have plaids and miss matched fabrics within the patterns in each square - as if they were using up yardage. Are the plaids also typical of North Carolina?


  3. Thanks for sharing! I learn so much from you.

  4. Seeing your mention of this upcoming event, I emailed a non-quilting friend who lives in Mlps and enthusiastically urged her to attend. She did so and was much informed and entertained. She called and reported all you had imparted about fabrics and colors and when the different fabrics were available and why and how colors came into being and the politics along the way. Fascinated is the word she used. Her impulse was to stand up during the Q&A period and report how she had been forced by a friend to attend, tongue in cheek of course.

    Anyway, she said to me that she was very glad she attended. And as we have been friends for (gasp) 55 years, it is safe to say she is not fibbing.

    Wish I could have been there too.


  5. Lois---Plaids very typical of NC mills, particularly famous are those from Alamance County.

  6. Your post is 3 years old but hoping you still have quilts. I am in Eastern NC would love to see your quilts some time. I study NC produced plaids so I might have info for you. Lynn Gorges