Thursday, February 18, 2021

1881 #1: Style & Dated Quilts


I picked a rather arbitrary year in the late 19th century to examine quilt style
and consider economic factors behind the look.
A look at 34 quilts date inscribed 1881 over the next few posts...
beginning with a whole cloth quilt from Joe & Mary Koval's collection
featuring a calendar and printed patchwork. Mary says she has no idea
why 1881 would be thought important enough to memorialize in a print.
Calendar prints are probably a bad sales idea---obsolete after a few months.

Here's a piece used in patchwork from an Illinois/Indiana 
Quilt Study Group meeting.

Not much was happening of note in 1881. It was a good year and yet a very bad one for James Garfield who was sworn in as president at the beginning of the year and assassinated at the end. Kansas became the first state to prohibit all alcohol. Whistler's Mother died and Florence Peto and Cecil B. DeMille were born.

People made quilts, although not in any great numbers if we compare the 34 dated examples say to the 1850s or the 1930s when we'd have dozens more to examine. But the quilts from 1881 can tell us something about a year that is relatively important in dating quilts by style and fabric.

We are grateful to Melissa for signing the center block of her quilt.

We see a few fashionable designs like the Double Irish Chain...

 this one dated 1881 from the North Carolina Project

& this one signed R Mc

I'm glad her red cottons were more reliable than her thread.
The fabric was probably Turkey red.

Signed MGB 1881 at the right bottom corner by
Martha Benedict (1850-1889) of Eaton County, Michigan.
From the Michigan Project and the Quilt Index

Turkey red and white quilts were in fashion. Most of us use a date of post-1880 for these red and white quilts (there are earlier exceptions.)

Star name quilt from the Danbury Universalist Church 1881 
Connecticut Project and the Quilt Index

We also see the beginnings of the fashion for name quilts in which
one paid a dime or a quarter to be remembered on a fundraising quilt.

Star name quilt, 1880 - 1881, by Sarah F. Gallup, 
Leominster, Massachusetts to benefit the G.A.R. veteran's group. 
Massachusetts project & the Quilt Index. 

Turkey red was a reliable old dye (if expensive) but the price of Turkey red cottons was dropping as chemists synthesized the natural dye. Genuine Turkey red was worth a little more if one had the money because those new synthetic dyes that were beginning to flood the market were fugitive. The gray sashing in the quilt above was probably once blue, likely a new coloring agent that just was not color fast. Here's another clue then to "after 1880"---synthetic dyes fading to tan, dun and gray.

We hope E.S. who initialed and dated this 1881 applique
never saw what happened to her green fabrics colored with the new

The date is quilted in this one so E.S. may have done the applique
earlier (some natural dye combinations could fade like this with harsh
washing) but as I said, fading greens, blues and reds are a good clue to
after 1880.

The New Yorkers who made this sampler for their minister J.F. Jones and his wife had no problems with fading (at least by the time the photo was taken in 1985 for Jane Kolter's Forget Me Not.)

The appliqued album was old-fashioned by 1880 but New Yorkers
continued to make them in their own style with bold words and cats.
Scroll down to see a quirky New Jersey sampler from 1881.

Moossie whose name is on this quilt wasn't so lucky in her fabrics.

The ebay seller interpreted this as Moosie.
Could be Apossie???

This photo probably reflects the color better. It looks like the triple sashing was once red and chrome orange with a wider green strip in between.We don't know a thing about this quilt from an online auction except for the inscription but we can guess by style characteristics Moosie lived in the South.
1) Triple strip sashing
2) Half blocks on the edge
3) Solid colors that are fading
4) Run on border (strips not mitered)
At the QuiltHistorySouth Facebook group we've been looking at Southern quilts for over a year and we've noticed a real change in style about 1880. Southern quiltmakers seem to have created a regional style about that date.

Here's the QuiltHistorySouth Facebook page link. Ask to join.

Quilt dated 1881 by Angelica Justina Schultz Petree (1842-1919)
Winston Salem North Carolina
The North Carolina project

Here's her grave:

Angelica's quilt looks to be oxblood red-brown and dark blue with the standard white for a neutral. She used the run-on strip border that was done often in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The pattern is also a Southernism---we might call it Pickle Dish---but Angelica added a small floral, a creative addition. Angelica's descendant mentioned she was a Moravian, a German-American, a group of whom came to Forsythe County before the Revolution.

Star quilt dated 1881 once in the collection of  Rita & Paul Flack

At the same time Southern quilters were going off in a regional direction Pennsylvanians who lived in the southeastern counties began following their own distinctive style. One characteristic was their use of brighter fabrics for neutrals - brighter than most American quilters would have chosen at the time. The above blue print as background is so linked with Lancaster County quilters people call it Lancaster blue today.

Detail of an undated quilt showing the double blue prints
so popular for backgrounds with Pennsylvanians.

Another Mennonite quilt from Lancaster County dated 1881,
with pattern, coloring and double strip border---a Pennsylvania look.

The distinctive Pennsylvania-German style (not confined to quilters from the Anabaptist sects but favored by them) seems to have developed about the same time that the regional Southern style did. Both regional styles continued strong into the teens and 1920s.

Tomorrow we'll look at more general styles that were fashionable around the U.S. in 1881.


  1. I got some hand pieced star quilt blocks, of various sizes, in a red that seems to have deteriorated the fabric so it is very thin, along with a white. Is this perhaps a Turkey Red? It is still vibrant in color.

  2. This is going to be fun! Can't wait for the next posts. I've often wondered about that 1881 calendar cheater print too. One thought I had is that it might have been a celebratory print for the anniversary of the manufacturing company. And, one more random thought, the name on that quilt looks like "Mossie" to me with a fancy "M", although "Moosie" is much more fun!