Sunday, July 14, 2024

Morris Manor with Attic Windows


Attic Windows
Morris Manor my next William Morris reproduction line from Moda recalls
Kelmscott Manor, the family house along the Thames River.

Attic Windows...

From BlockBase+
It's upside down if you are standing on the ground
looking up at the attic windows!

A late-19th-c version from Woodard & Greenstein


The sales reps are showing this collectionn to shops right now for
March, '25 delivery.
The 6" finished block makes the most
of Jellyroll strips and Charm Packs (2-1/2" and 5")

6" squares = 30" x 30" field of patchwork
with a 6" finished splashy border.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Real Clothes, Real Lives


Five Wrappers, c. 1895, made from the everyday fabrics we see in quilts at the time.

Been reading another fairly recently published textile history book: Real Clothes, Real Lives: 200 Years of What Women Wore by Kiki Smith with an introduction by Vanessa Friedman. 

Catherine (Kiki) Smith is the curator of
Smith College Historic Clothing Collection.

Fellow Know-It-All Lynne Zacek Bassett worked on Smith's team for several years constructing and dressing mannequins, assisting with historic costume information and repairing clothing. She's been dressing mannequins to ship to the New York Historical Society where an exhibit will open at the end of September.

Work aprons

 The collection has over 4,000 pieces, acquired in the past few years. Unlike many other clothing collections Smith College's does not focus on designer wardrobes or celebrity-associated articles. Most of the objects seem to be undocumented, the more inexpensive kinds of wear that many of us interested in patchwork quilts might also collect.

Sundress (ca. 1950) of a print inspired by the musical South Pacific

That this collection focus is valuable and worth supporting would seem to be obvious, but five years ago Vanessa Friedman who wrote the introduction published a story in the New York Times asking 
whether such a collection has any value.
 "As the fate of the collection becomes a subject of debate within the college, it has stirred up uncomfortable questions about what constitutes 'value' in the context of clothes, the liberal arts and the current conversation about how we talk about women’s history."

The question seems snobbish and outdated but apparently we still need to address collecting women's history at the basic level.

Repair on a work dress ca. 1920

You'll enjoy the book and learn a lot about clothing and fabrics. E.g. Repairing nylon stockings. Eek!

Preview here:

Friday, July 5, 2024

Virginia Spread With a Dubious Attribution


Smithsonian Collection
 85" x 100"

The National Museum of American History owns a large quilt top (a bound summer spread) with the donor attribution that it was made about 1840 by an enslaved woman named Ann at the Womack plantation in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Slave-stitched quilts rarely survive with the maker's name associated so the initial reaction might be that this could be an important piece, adding to our knowledge of how enslaved seamstresses used the patchwork format.

Ann lived in Pittsylvania County down by the North Carolina state line. The county seat is Danville.

Ann is mentioned along with many other enslaved people in William Womack's 1849 will, in which  he bequeathed human property. William's wife Martha inherited Ann, perhaps Martha was the "Aunt Patsy" married to "Uncle Billy" mentioned by the donor. Patsy was a common nickname for Martha at the time. A Martha J. Thompson married a William Womack in Pittsylvania County in 1825.

However, as we learn more about dating quilts by fabric, dyes, and style, it becomes apparent that the family was mistaken about the date of the quilt and thus its status as a slave-made quilt. The appliqued bedcover was NOT sewn by an enslaved woman as it looks to be from about 1880-1920, many decades after Emancipation. Ann may have indeed stitched it but after years of freedom in a completely different context.

The caption notes that the blocks may have been made in the 1840s but the setting was probably later.

But the blocks and the set date to the same time period---about 1880-1920.
It's bound with a chrome orange solid, also in the cornerstone set.
 This older mineral dye was one of the most reliable of the era.

One reliable clue to dating is this teal blue-green solid, a fugitive synthetic dye that soon turned to a dun or khaki color in some dye lots. The dye was called Brilliant Green. The quiltmaker had enough colorfast blue-green for leaves and stems in the applique but those two corner strips at the top must have been her only leftovers from the applique. The rest of the sashing has faded dramatically ---as solids from the 1880-1930 period often did.

Dye manufacturers Kneck, Rawon & Lowenthal published a dye manual with an accompanying volume featuring tipped-in samples of cotton and wool glued into the book. Here are 3 views of sample # 30 Brilliant green scanned from 3 different copies of the book, some getting more light than others. The dye was so fugitive it faded even in bound books.  There were other versions of the synthetic dye called Brilliant green but I bet this is the culprit in teal blue-green fading to tan.

The applique artist seems to have had two reds as she alternated them in the tulip-like blooms in all the blocks.

The lighter red tulips may have always been a shade of pink, brighter
at one time. Solids were so disappointing in the early synthetic colors.

But the pinks might have been the unreliable solid red that looked like the Turkey red vegetable dye on the bolt but also quickly faded, perhaps synthetic dye Congo red, also a good clue to a post-1880 date

Revealing example of how Congo red fades. Set of blocks exposed to light. Top block = most light. But even the bottom block has faded showing how the light penetrates the thin fabrics. This may explain why looking at the seams of faded reds tells us nothing about the original color. Turkey red in the diamonds; Congo red in the baskets.

The quilt in question may offer us information on the later quilts of freedwomen, an important research project, but I'm afraid it can tell us nothing about patchwork made by women living in slavery.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Indigo Resist #5: Current Scholarship on Sources


International Quilt Museum 
Wholecloth bedcover of indigo pomegranate print with a later pieced border.

Caption from their 2013 exhibit Indigo Gives America the Blues

In the ten + year since Nao Namura curated that show on indigo for the
International Quilt Museum, scholarship about the geographic sources for these early
large-scale indigo resist prints from the 18th century has evolved.

Collection of Colonial Williamsburg
Detail of an Indigo Resist wholecloth quilt they date as 1750-1800

The distinctive designs have been attributed to several countries of origin. See this series of posts about political and cultural reasons for hypotheses that the fabric and wholecloth quilts were made in the New York/Connecticut area in the 18th century. Currently, American origins have been dismissed as no evidence exists aside from the survival here of many similar bedcovers and fragments. England as a possible source has been considered but little evidence supports this claim.

Roderic H. Blackburn, Ruth Piwonka, Remembrance of Patria: Dutch Arts and Culture in Colonial America, 1609-1776, Exhibit Catalog 1986. Albany Institute of Art and History

Once we venture into the British & Dutch East India Companys' history of trade with the Americas I am way over my head. 

The British East India Company built infrastructure in India such 
as this late-17th-century trading post in Surat.

Headquarters in London, mid 18th century

One had to sail around Africa to deliver Indian cottons to England.
Then across the Atlantic to the American colonies from Massachusetts south
to the West Indies.

Paulus Constantijn La Fargue (1729-1782) was a Dutch genre painter who depicted many mid 18th-c women in The Hague dressed in large-scale indigo resist prints.

Detail of a market scene by La Fargue

It is obvious that British traders geared specific exports to specific markets. Laws as well as taste dictated what could be sold where. It seems apparent that English consumers were uninterested in splashy blue & white cottons while other trading partners offered a profitable market---New York's colonists and the Dutch who had much in common including a taste for similar prints, for example the Van Rensselaers.

Detail of a textile in the Albany Institute donated
by the Van Rensselaer family

The Van Rensselaers left Holland for North America in the late 17th century. Early and influential, they were granted enormous land assets in the area of Albany---700,000 acres. Dutch families with fewer assets also left similar textiles.

New Yorker Magdalena Douw (1718-179?) painted by Albany 
artist John Heaton about 1740 on the cover of Blackburn & Piwonka's catalog

Blackburn & Piwonka quote Philip Livingston (1686-1749) a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a New York textile merchant dealing with London who knew what his customers wanted---"Blew...All large flowers...None Small Single flowers."
In 2013 staff at the Metropolitan Museum exhibited related textiles and published a catalog Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade 1500-1800

Amelia Peck, Curator of American Decorative Arts, wrote about indigo resist textiles in the collection.
Unfortunately, Peck did not include a comprehensive discussion of the evidence but a glance at writing on the East India Company's trade in indigo prints suggest that all the boxes could be checked. 

For another International Quilt Museum exhibit on international trade see their 2019 exhibit Old World Quilts with some of their earliest textiles created during the growing trend for international trade:
From the section about India:
"Indian textiles were introduced to Europe early in the seventeenth century and quickly sparked a shift in consumer taste. Wool and silk fabrics were replaced in home décor and clothing with brightly colored printed and painted cotton textiles that were washable, colorfast, and comfortable. India’s long-established textile producing communities, particularly along the country’s eastern coast, were masters of mordant dyeing, a specialized technique required for adhering dye to cotton fabric." I add: The Indian artisans were also skillful at indigo resist 
Mending the Quilt, nostalgic print from the Wallace Nutting group,
early 20th-century.

Now, I have my own hypothesis I've been working on and it's what led me to this discussion. Quilts are a compelling version of American mythology because they were in the 19th and early 20th centuries seen as part of our British origins, specifically linked to Anglo-Saxon heritage. In the midst of 19th-century wars with Mexico and rising strife between North and South plus immigrants causing perceived threats to "Authentic Americanism" patchwork quilts stood for traditional crafts not derived from Spain, France or India. Quilts were associated with "hardy New Englanders."
Indigo Resist bedquilt attributed to New Englander Mary Wilber (1781-1846) 
Swansea, Massachusetts. Collection of Old Sturbridge Village

What can I offer as proofs for this hypothesis?---many anecdotal records ranging from Harriet Beecher Stowe's fiction to the Cooper Union Museum's record on attributions of the indigo resist prints. See three earlier posts on the topic:

And read a preview of Interwoven Globe here:

Connecticut Museum of Culture & History 

Make-do medallion bedcover made from a variety of scraps
including selvage edges of indigo resist fabrics with tax stamps,
attributed to a member of Connecticut's Comfort Starr family.

Warrants close examination!

Lynne Zacek Bassett sent some detail photos she's taken.

For more fabric styles that found no favor with English consumers see this post:
"Portuguese" Stripes:

The previous 4 posts on Indigo Resist and its sources:

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Indigo Resist #4: Printed in England?


In her 2014 update of Florence Montgomery's catalog of Winterthur Museum textiles curator Linda Eaton showed this pheasant and floral resist-style fabric, indicating that the cotton (with a bit of linen in the yarns) was "Printed in Britain 1760s-70s."

Albany Institute of History & Art Collection

Eaton cited that 1956 conference at the Cooper-Union Museum. Although curators Hathaway & Beer reporting on the results of that meeting were hesitant to credit a geographic source Eaton summarized conference results with the idea that the source was Britain as evidenced in the piece above. (See more about Hathaway & Beer at this post:

Barbara Brackman's MATERIAL CULTURE: Indigo Resist #2: "How Fools Rush In"

Fragment from collection of the D.A.R. Museum
in Washington, D.C.

Mary E. Gale and her advisor Margaret T. Ordoñez at the University of Rhode Island focused on the British source in Mary's 2001 thesis and two papers the team wrote about 20 years ago, in which they discussed another piece of evidence indicating British origins. In England's Baker Archive is a swatch book with several familiar prints from an English firm Baker & Tucker.

 “Eighteenth-Century Indigo-Resist Fabrics: Their Use in 
Quilts and Bed Hangings,” Uncoverings 2004
"The question of provenance of the [early] blue resists cannot be answered merely by the presence of a pattern book in England."

So in other words, English production is the hypothesis but very little proof is evident: The piece with the revenue stamp in Albany and the Baker pattern book in England.

Evidence of later indigo resist production in England.

 Late-19th-century English dyebook from
the William Morris & Company records. Morris
explored the complex process for authenticity in his
Brother Rabbit print.

Winterthur Museum Collection
Detail of an early wholecloth bedcover

Last Post tomorrow: So what is the current thinking about these indigo resist prints origins?

Linda Eaton, Printed Textiles: British & American Cottons & Linens 1700-1850.  New York, Monicelli Press, 2014

Mary Gale & Margaret T. Ordoñez, "Indigo-Resist Prints from Eighteenth-Century America: Technology and Technique," Clothing and Textile Research Journal. vol. 22 (Jan./March 2004): 4–14.

Mary Gale & Margaret T. Ordoñez, “Eighteenth-Century Indigo-Resist Fabrics: Their Use in Quilts and Bed Hangings”  Uncoverings 2004, Volume 25 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group. https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=page&kid=35-90-283

Gale, M. E. (2001). Indigo-resist prints from eighteenth-century America: Production and provenance. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Rhode Island, Kingston.

Hassler, K. (1986). Printing procedures for the historic American blue resisted cloths. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Delaware, Newark.

Pettit, F. H. (1975, 1976). The printed textiles of eighteenth-century America. Paper presented at the Irene Emery Roundtable on museum textiles: Imported and domestic textiles in eighteenth-century America, Textile Museum, Washington, D. C.