Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Ridiculously Popular Pillar Print

Nine patch with a pillar print border.
 Collection of the National Museum of American History
Smithsonian Institution
# 75.6381

Pillar print with a range of colors on
"a fancy trellis ground printed by block"
according to Linda Eaton. You can barely see the diamond-grid background.

It seems that everybody was buying this particular pillar print about 1830

"Pillar with baskets of fruit and flowers"

And why not? It had everything: Pillar with a bowl of fruit on the capital and between
the pillars a floral basket with some extra roses.

Detail of the Smithsonian's.

And a lot of curlicues.

The print was considered quite appropriate for borders for pieced quilts.

Four-patch from the Wilber family of Swansea, Massachusetts. 
Collection of Old Sturbridge Village. 
I color corrected the photo to see what colorway the border print was.

Old Sturbridge Village has two quilts with different colorways in the borders. You learn to recognize the chintz by the swag below the basket which makes a rather prominent loop.

She's cut up the print for the alternate squares and used the baskets for the border.

Collection: Old Sturbridge Village

The Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt has a nine patch, thought to be English, made about 1830.

This one is a little mysterious. The nine patches
look much later than the chintz. But then again: maybe
the pillar print was reproduced towards the end of the 19th century.

Collection of Historic Deerfield 
from Mass Quilts & the Quilt Index.

And in an era when striped bedcovering was the rage, the chintz made a fashionable whole cloth quilt. Above three lengths with the red ground.

Florence Montgomery was the Winterthur Museum's textile curator for many years. In her 1970 catalog Printed Textiles: English and American Cottons and Linens 1700-1850 she showed three versions in the museum collection. Her comments on the striped version below:
"Pillar with baskets of fruit and flowers. Roller printed, about 1830...[with] additions of yellow and a brown striped ground. By making these changes ...different chintzes could be offered at little additional cost."  (page 325, fig. 371)

In her 2014 update of the Winterthur catalog Linda Eaton shows five examples with the most outrageous being the stripe Montgomery described (#C-258, page 293). She notes different print quality in the various pieces with the details printed by cylinder and additional color added with blocks. The brown stripe above was printed over the top by "surface roller." 

Note to self: If fabric not selling well suggest printing an unrelated stripe over the top 

 A collage of 10 colorways

I now have found 15 colorways with variations in background and figure colors.

Wholecloth quilt from the Connecticut project:
Chocolate brown ground with red and white figures.

That's darker than this light brown version in
the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. 

Winterthur also has a two-color toile-style piece as a pillow cover.

Eaton shows this one on a green ground with the addition of a white discharged
tassel and lace. The column is marbleized here. 

So what was the source of the "Pillar with baskets of fruit and flowers," as Montgomery called it. Linda Eaton says "Printed in Britain; 1830s." I'm guessing Lancashire County in England where the many mills produced rather inexpensive furnishing fabrics for export. More than one mill might have printed this popular print.

I have been working on this post for a couple of weeks and last week I was going to say with authority that the fabric was a favorite with Northerners, particularly New Englanders. You just don't see it in Southern quilts, I thought.

But then I found Ann Adeline Orr Parks's panel medallion in the North Carolina Quilts book. Ann (1803-1835) was a young woman in her late 20s or early 30s when this quilt was made. Her husband David Parks owned a dry goods store in Charlotte, Mecklenberg County, North Carolina.

I wonder if anyone cut the basket out of the white chintz
to applique in Broderie-Perse fashion.

Another quilt attributed to Mecklenberg County below, this one dated 1833, confirming the estimated date of early 1830s.

1833 Grandmother Kendall for Ethel F. Munday. Brunk Auction.

Apparently they liked the red ground pillar print in North Carolina too. I imagine the print was sold by dry goods retailers from Maine to Savannah. It would be hard to find another print with more than 15 variations.

Terry Terrell has commented on my Facebook page:

"Your obsession pillar print pictures show two slightly different prints. Most show smaller acanthus leaves on the capitals and flowers baskets on right with fruit baskets on left.

Note the baskets...  (fruit basket on right, flowers on left) and the acanthus leaves on the capitals are larger and swing upward like an old-fashioned mustache. Your red example at the bottom left, and the yellow example at the bottom right are like the attached picture. So which is the copy and which is the original? I have been trying to guess for some time."
Thank you, Terry. I guess we have 16 variations unless it's the same as this one in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Theirs may be unfaded red, while the one Terry sent is faded to pink.

Sandra Starley contributed this blue and white version.

Then I found an answer to my question: Did anyone ever cut out the basket for a cut-out chintz motif? See the book Chintz Quilts from the Poos Collection, pp 287 & 140. She's cut the basket (They call it Bias Weave Yellow Basket) from the chintz four times for the corners of a feathered star.

They mention a quilt with similar basket in the center from the International Quilt Study Center & Museum collection #1997.007.0454.

I am going to have to give up counting and go with my original estimate of Ridiculously Popular.


  1. Holely molely that pillar print makes for one busy print. Way too chaotic for me.

  2. Thanks for your extensive research into the pillar prints......one of my all-time favorites! Their exuberant beauty stood out back then and still do today in reproductions! Your reproductions of them were the best imho!

  3. Thanks for documenting these. A great reference!

  4. I think we need some more of these reproduced today. I love the green background and the light background with diamonds.

  5. Thank you very much for such a wonderful post! Agree with Cathy that we need more pillar repros today.

    (Yes, this is my real name . . .)

  6. I appreciate your research and sharing it with us. Perhaps the pillar print border on newer blocks... because they had lots of that fabric to finish it?

  7. The Montgomery County Historical Society (MD) has a Star of Bethlehem quilt with cut outs of the baskets appliquéd in the corners.
    I just found it on their website-the pictures are not so clear, but it's definitely the basket from this pillar print.
    If you type "quilt" in their keyword search it is the 10th result down.