Monday, March 26, 2012

Petticoat Quilts

Wool Quilt from about 1790-1840
Collection: Watkins Museum, Lawrence, Kansas

This is the oldest quilt in the collection of our local historical society. Years ago when I read the catalog papers it was described as Amish. You can understand the mistake. In Kansas we see a lot more Amish wool quilts than we do early wool petticoat quilts, which is what it actually is, probably brought here by one of the New Englanders who came to Kansas in the 1850s.

I wish I'd taken better pictures but I remember it as quilted with many fancy motifs. When it was turned over, the shapes on the front were echoed on the back. It was obvious that the center blue panel had been a  quilted petticoat. The gathers had been removed and the skirt flattened out. Smaller pink square filled out the rectangle and a border of tan quilted wool was added with larger pink squares.

Fashion in the last quarter of the 18th century
The woman on the right is wearing a quilted petticoat. It's important to remember that the word petticoat really means skirt. Quilted petticoats were worn on the outside in the 18th century and into the 19th.

See two petticoat quilts at the Quilt Index
These recycled petticoat bedcovers are rather common in museum collections (if not always recognized). Like the linsey-woolsey quilts described in the last post, wool and silk petticoats were too durable to discard once they were unfashionable.

See this quilt made from a petticoat in the collection of Old Sturbridge Village

Another madder red quilted petticoat in England.
The joke is that the cobbler's wife is aping her betters---
and making do without a lady's maid.

Wool petticoat from the collection of Colonial Williamsburg.
Go to their search page, type in petticoat and see many examples:

While we are thinking about wholecloth quilting, here's a great reproduction.

Underhill Tree of Life Wholecloth Quilt
by Jill Meszaros, 2012
Cotton and hand quilted.

Jill's entry into the 1812 Seaways Trail Quilt Challenge was named for her ancestor Major David Underhill of Ohio. Her hand quilting design inspirations: Lynne Z. Bassett's drawings in Massachusetts Quilts and a "Tree of Life Whitework Quilt" from Quilts-Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum.

See more about this quilt that won second prize for Viewer's Choice  here:
If you are inclined to make a here:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Linsey Woolsey Quilts

Quilt of various wool, cotton and combination fabrics
Late 19th century

Wool was often mixed with other fibers. One durable combination was a weave of linen and wool, which is called linsey-woolsey, linsey or lincey. Wool is also woven with cotton, a combination also called linsey.

These details, all from mid to late 19th century quilts, show a variety of mixed weaves. It's difficult to learn what linsey is from photos. Once you see it and handle it you learn it well. The vertical brown strip above looks to be a linsey twill:  a brown wool warp and white cotton weft.

Linsey (the brown above is probably linsey) is hard to date, unlike calimanco with its polish or delaine with its print. Linsey fabric in a twill, a plain weave, a plaid or a stripe would look pretty much the same in 1776 or 1876.

There are many kinds of durable hand woven fabrics.
It's linsey if it's a combination of wool and linen or cotton.
Look for the white yarns to identify linsey. The linen or cotton is often left uncolored, but it can also be dyed.

Pieced linsey quilt attributed to
Kentucky, about 1800, from Cowan Auctions
Linsey fabrics tend to be the basic natural dyes, madder reds, indigo blues and browns from a variety of dyes with the natural whites and grays of linen and cotton.

Here's a twill linsey peeking through a hole in quilt

Another hole in the same quilt. Someone has covered a linsey quilt with another fabric. The linsey is more durable than it's patch here.

The cloth was often woven with pattern: stripes and checks.
My friend Merikay Waldvogel who lives in Tennessee knows more about linsey quilts than anyone I know. Here are some from her collection in her guest room, and some of the details above are from her quilts.

The cover quilt for the Kentucky Quilt Project book
is an imaginative use of linsey woolsey
 and other home spun and hand woven fabrics.
See more about the quilt by Nancy Miller Grider at the quilt Index:
In listening to Merikay I have gathered that most of the linsey quilts we see are mid to late 19th century. Many are Southern and many were made after the Civil War to recycle old linsey clothing that was too durable to throw away but too unfashionable amd too uncomfortable to wear. Most of the fabric in these quilts is a mix of wool and cotton rather than wool and linen.

Detail of a linsey petticoat from Baker & Co. Antiques

For many years curators and dealers referred to all home woven or wool quilts as linsey-woolsey quilts, even if there was no linen or cotton in the fiber, but now everyone is trying to be accurate and specific with descriptions like worsted and calimanco for the early quilts. There are undoubtedly some late-18th century and early-19th century quilts made from linsey fabrics, but a linsey quilt is a pretty good clue to mid- to late-19th century.

A quilt from an online auction. The square in a square blocks are wool combination fabrics, the sashing looks to be cotton. See detail at the top of the page.

See what I said about linsey twenty years ago in Clues in the Calico at Google Books
And read what Merikay says in "Southern Linsey Quilts of the Nineteenth Century," a chapter in Quiltmaking in America: Beyond the Myths.

Quotes from the Era:

The Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 1954, June 5, 1766
Was stolen, on the 7th of May last, from Francis Quick's Bleach-yard, of Amwell Township, Hunterdon County, in West New-Jersey, sundry Lots of Goods, viz. three homespun Shifts, one Pair of homespun Sheets, three Pillow Cases, a long Calico double Gown, purple and white, the Figure on one Side much smaller than the other, one striped Linsey Petticoat, with a deep and pale blue...her Habit as near as can be remembered is a black and blue striped Linsey short Gown, a Linsey Petticoat, and a Leaden coloured Stuff Bonnet..."

Lucy Bakewell Audubon complaining about her Dutch and Swiss women servants in 1805: "How people forget their former situations. When they came here they were thankful for linsey gowns and now though my Papa bought each of them a printed cotton, yet nothing would do but a white dimity..." Quoted in Carolyn Delatte, Lucy Audubon: A Biography (Louisiana State University Press, 1982) page 31.

Monday, March 19, 2012

1812 Reproduction Quilt Show Opens

Betty Anne of Ontario

The  ‘War of 1812 Bicentennial Quilt Show’ was on display last weekend in Sackets Harbor, New York with over 100 quilts on exhibit from quilters in Canada and the United States. The contest was organized by Seaway Trail executive director Teresa Mitchell, who passed away a few months ago. Ten of Teresa's quilts were also on display.

Mary McCarthy of Londonderry
I trolled the internet for pictures of quilts entered in the display.

Judith Stoll Campbell

The rules asked for long quilts (30" x 70") which resulted in creative solutions to incorporating square ideas into rectangular formats.

Rachael Arnold of Utica, New York

The show will be traveling. Mancuso Quilt Shows will feature the War of 1812 Quilt Challenge at the World Quilt Show-New England in Manchester, NH August 16-19 and then at Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza September 13-16.

Quilters of Upper Canada Village

Local newspapers carried stories about the quilters this week. Do a web search for the words: quilt 1812 Sackets Harbor.

And see the Seaway Trail blog here:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Early Wool Patchwork

Calimanco patchwork quilt detail.
Pieced wool quilts were made in glazed and unglazed wools, worsteds, woolens, and linsey-woolseys (more about them in the next post.) The patterns in these quilts from about 1800 tend towards simple geometry.
Here are some pictures and links. Many of these sturdy quilts survive.

The basic patchwork is probably a check pattern
---alternating plain blocks.

See a similar quilt (#1997-007-0376)  in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum by clicking here:

And another in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:

That alternating plain square offers a good spot for embroidery as in this early quilt now in the collection of the Winterthur Museum:

Similar to one from Maine dated 1818 in the collection of the Maine Historical Society

And to another Maine quilt attributed to the Dyer Family, sold at auction recently.

Plain blocks with sashing---a fragment from an online auction

See this quilt at the Quilt Index from the Iowa project

And then there are actual patchwork blocks
A four-patch from Laura Fisher's store
See another four-patch at Old Sturbridge Village

Nine-patches from an online auction (is that sun fading in the corner?)

See this nine patch from Rhode Island at the Quilt Index:

Stars--a fantastic example from the Museum of American Folk Art collection.

Greta VanDenBerg-Nestle made a reproduction of this quilt, spinning and weaving her own worsted and woolen yarns for the American Quilt Study Group's Star study. Click here:

Detail of a star in the collection of the State Historical Society of Iowa from the Quilt Index:

Sharon Pinka was inspired to make her star study quilt by a Maine pieced example. She asked Wendy Reed about the Maine wool quilts. Wendy wrote:

“We have seen many of this type in our Maine Quilt Heritage project. We have found all of them to be wool, some are different weights of wool and when we can see the battings we have found them all to be wool as well.... The earliest “dated” wool quilt we have found is dated 1790 and the latest (of this type) that is dated is 1829. I’m sure the range is larger than this, but these are actual dated examples.”

See Sharon's reproduction quilt here:

A similar star block quilt in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:

And this one that WillyWonky recently added to his collection: Rhode Island

A red and green unglazed wool star from Old Sturbridge Village:

Triangles in calimanco from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum:

And then there are medallions:

A simple medallion in the collection of the Old Slater's Mill Museum in the Quilt Index.

A medallion in an amazing color of fuschia in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum (1997.007.0601), attributed to New York:

Snapped at the Vermont Quilt Festival

Some of these early quilts are so complicated it's hard to believe they are really before 1830

Like this one from the Bidwell House Museum collection but it's not in their online catalog.

Then there's always Anna Tuels's quilt dated 1785 with its pink calimanco border to remind us
that early quilts aren't necessarily simple.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wholecloth Wool Quilts

Detail showing a worsted wool quilt
The wholecloth wool quilt is an 18th-century American tradition that continued into the 1840s, particularly popular in New England and New York. The major variations are worsted quilts, calimanco quilts and linsey quilts (more in another post).

The earliest Massachusetts bedquilt so far discovered by that state's project is thought to date from the 1730s, "a greenish-brown worsted whole-cloth quilt." Lynn Zacek Bassett has diagramed the quilting pattern in Massachusetts Quilts, but there is no picture of the textile by Mary Abbott Bridges. If you know what worsted is you can imagine.

Worsted is a harder, smoother yarn than woolen yarn.
Woolen on the left, worsted on the right.

I can never remember what worsted is so I looked it up. Like other textile terms its meaning varies and meaning changes over the generations. When discussing early wool quilts people use the word worsted to mean the following: 
Worsted- straight, long, parallel fibers in the yarn, giving a hard, smooth surface
as opposed to
Woolen - looser, rougher yarn giving a softer, fuzzier surface
Worsted is also the cloth woven from that yarn. Florence Montgomery in her book on vintage textile terms (Textiles in America 1650-1870) says it was a "lightweight cloth made of long-staple combed wool yarn," named after an English village named Worstead.

This quilt from an online auction looks to be a wholecloth worsted quilt. The quilting is not so fancy as in Mary Abbott Bridges's quilt.

The trouble with worsted fabric is that
 it's hard to photograph because it absorbs the light
 rather than reflecting it....
Which makes it dull.
So you don't find a lot of photos of worsted quilts.
See a picture of WillyWonky's wool wholecloth quilt here. It looks to be worsted

We see a new interest in wool comforters about 1890, often featuring woolens rather than worsted. The major difference between the early wool quilts and the later examples is that the early quilts are quilted. The later quilts are usually tied. The Amish continued the tradition of quilted wools and combination wool fabrics into the twentieth century, so identification is sometimes problematic, but a quilted wool wholecloth quilt is a good clue to an early date.
The early wool quilts were often quilted with a fine worsted yarn.

Fancy wool quilts were made from a polished wool called calimanco, something Montgomery defines as a worsted stuff with a fine gloss upon it...."plain weave glazed calimanco in sold colors of deep indigo, light blue green, raspberry red and pink....[Calimanco] is found in coverlets quilted in patterns of large flowers and leaves backed with coarser wool linings." (I'm still confused though-because there are satin-weave calimancoes too.)

Wholecloth calimanco quilt by Esther Wheat,
Conway, Massachusetts, estimated date: 1790.
Collection of the Smithsonian Institution
The reflective luster was obtained by calendaring the wool, running it through heated rollers that put a permanent polish on the fabric.  Calimanco (calamanco), also called glazed wool, was usually an imported fabric, a luxury item. The shine remains and good photography highlights details in some beautiful quilts.
Calimanco was a popular clothing fabric in the 18th century, durable yet elegant. As it fell out of fashion it remained the clothing of the lower classes. One source of textile history is ads for runaway slaves, which often described clothing in detail as in this one from the New York Gazette in 1773, looking for Philis who absconded on Christmas wearing "a light couloured calimanco gown, a check apron,  black silk cloak, and a black peelong bonnet..."
Calimanco was used for women's shoes too. Although it doesn't sound very sturdy surprisingly many
calimanco shoes have survived.
If you  wanted to make a period wholecloth quilt you'd have a hard time finding the right wool today. You might be better off using a silk. Lynn Z. Bassett's drawings for Massachusetts Quilts will give you some design ideas.
See Lynn's essay on wool whole-cloth quilts in Kimberly Wulfuert's blog post by clicking here:
And more about the Massachusetts Quilts book here:

See several wholecloth wool quilts in the collection of the Bidwell House Museum by clicking here:

Read more about Esther Wheat's quilt here:

Florence Montgomery's 1984 dictionary of historical textiles has recently been republished with a foreward by Linda Eaton, textile curator at the Winterthur Museum. See a preview here:
You might want to buy it directly from the Winterthur to support this important museum, its textile collections and its generosity in sharing information.

Read a preview of "Pretends to be free": runaway slave advertisements...  By Graham Russell Hodges and Alan Edward Brown by clicking here: