Thursday, August 30, 2018

English Applique #1: A Distinctive Style

A few months ago at the Covered In Blue event at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Nebraska we spent some time examining this quilt.

It's #2009.039.0002 from the James Collection.

The quilt caused quite a flurry of speculation in our small group.

There is an inked name and date on the reverse
Mary Eliza ???
May? 27? 1867 or 1869

[Wish Mary had printed.]

Over the years this name has been interpreted as
Eliza or Ellen
Trowbridge, Crowbridge or Crownbridge.

I'm going for Mary Eliza Crowbridge or Trowbridge as Crownbridge doesn't seem to be a personal name although there is a Welsh town by the name.

Some of us look at construction, some at fabric, some at style or pattern and some at overall visual impact. This quilt had something for all to discuss. We noted the applique construction. Each piece was secured with a cross stitch.

See the file on this quilt at the IQSCM database here:

Border leaves from Mary's quilt

English applique

You often see this applique technique in British quilts, rarely in American applique. Sometimes the fabric is left raw edge, sometimes turned under. UPDATE: In the comments Abelian says it is a herringbone stitch; it's a decorative kind of stitch, something you don't see used much in American quilts until the crazy quilt era of the 1880s.

Here's another likely English applique with a red cross stitch, from Garth's Auction. 
A small rectangular piece.

Mary's quilt
We were there to look at fabrics, in particular blues. And we saw plenty of blue and buff prints dyed with Prussian blue here. These tend to have been popular in the U.S. from about 1840 to 1860, with maybe a broader range of 1830-1870 in England, which fits the inked 186? date.

Julie Silber and I were intrigued by the style---something you do not see American quiltmakers using. How to describe it?

I have been think of it as Unconfined Applique, shapes not confined to blocks.

Julie has been calling it Free Style Applique.

In any case you plop those shapes down wherever they fit.

Right over the seam lines (see the arrows on the left pointing to seams.)
Americans rarely do that.
More tomorrow on this quilt and the style.


  1. I love British quilts in this style, each little image tells us something about their way of living when the quilt was made. And there's usually quite a variety of fabrics. I think of the style as scattered appliqué, does anyone know what the British call it?

  2. How very interesting. I have never seen cross stitches to anchor down an applique. Thank you for sharing the information and pictures.

  3. I love this quilt style. I’m in the process of recreating one from the V&A Museum. Mine is more planned and very symmetrical though. I couldn’t figure out how they got those shapes so small. Raw edge with a cross stitch explains it. Thanks for the close ups.

  4. It looks like the Herringbone Stitch, rather than Cross Stitch. Here's a video from Mary Corbet:


    Small back stitches with longer "floats" between them.

  5. Whoever made that quilt was fearless and knew their way around a needle and thread.
    I admire that.

  6. I really like that style a lot!!

  7. Difficult to tell but could it be Cowanbridge? It is spelt Cowan Bridge now but these things change.

  8. It reminds me of the Spot Motif samplers stitched on linen in cross stitch. I like it!

  9. We have a fragment in this style in the New England Quilt Museum collection. It appears to be the center panel of a medallion style quilt. The maker was Irish and family documents seem to indicate she brought it in her trunk when she immigrated. Interesting style that needs a name. I have seen a couple others in this style.

  10. That must have been a great opportunity for discussion. Thank you for sharing all the details.

  11. Perhaps it was a different style of Victorian crazy with the herringbone stitching, while the tiny cross stitches are super.

  12. Oh how I love this quilt! I like Julie's "free style" name for it. Maybe that is why I like this style so much. It looks "free and easy". Barb Vedder made a smaller version of this type of quilt few years ago and has published a pattern for it. Thanks for this wonderful post!

  13. I discussed herringbone applique in Chintz Quilts of the Poos Collection. It is also discussed in Quilt Treasures by the Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles (both editions I believe). I love this style of applique, and chose it for my AQSG study quilt this year.

  14. Such a beautiful quilt! The name seems to me Mary Elyn Cambridge and the year 1969.(But I am probably wrong, I am not an expert).
    Thank you for this post!

  15. Trowbridge or Trowbridge? Neither the BMD indices (Births Marriages & Deaths registered in England and Wales) nor the Scottish registers have any entries for the surname Crowbridge. However, there are several for Trowbridge (unsurprising, as it is a place name). Samples of handwriting from the late 18th century show examples of the capitaliseed letter "T" looking like the letter "C".

    The BMD index for 1857 shows the birth of Mary Elizabeth Trowbridge in the parish of Tilbury, Wiltshire. There is also an entry for a Mary Elizabeth Cambridge in 1857 in the district of Shoreditch, which straddles the boundary between London and Middlesex.

  16. Maybe it is Mary Elys from Cambridge? (My mistake, the year 1969 should have read 1869 of course). I found a Mary Isabella Elys, born around 1841, according to the census of 1901 in Britain and Wales. The My Heritage website may provide more information about where she was born and where she lived.
    Good luck with your search!

  17. Love this style and I had not seen this particular quilt - Thanks for sharing it.
    Makes me want to make another one!