Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Austen Quilt

The Austen patchwork
This spread with a central basket is
attributed to the Austen women.

"My dear Cassandra, have you remembered to collect pieces for the Patchwork? -- We are now at a standstill." In 1811 Jane Austen reminded her sister they were working on a bedcover at Chawton Cottage.
Chawton Cottage where Jane Austen,
 her sister and her mother lived after 1809

Patchwork (presumed to be made by the family) is on display at this shrine for Austen fans. A look at the quilt can tell us a lot about fabric in the teens. It's actually called a bedcover as it is not quilted. Much English patchwork of the time was a single layer like this piece.

See a video---a few seconds of a tour of the bedroom here 

The main part is a patchwork field of rather oddly proportioned diamonds in a grid. They are not true 60 degree diamonds, a little off.

I am just going by photos so I cannot say if that grid patchwork is a grid of dots or another tiny figure, but they certainly look like round dots. 
  • Polka Dots are old---they go back to the 18th century at least, before anybody called them polka dots.
  • Dots are a good option for a neutral print in an early reproduction.
A Question?
  • Is the use of dots in this era more English taste than American? (Notice the George III quilt in a recent post.)

The center features a larger diamond with a wicker basket full of flowers.

About a dozen years ago Makower printed a reproduction of that basket panel. Eat your heart out if you didn't get one then. It's too late now.

But Moda's French General has a similar isolated basket in a collection called Paniers des Fleurs---in shops now!

  • What fabric did the Austens use to cut the center diamond?
Answer: I asked Merikay Waldvogel, who keeps a list of early panel prints, and she showed me a quilt with the same fabric---proving it was cut from a panel. And then there is a recent post about a quilt at England's Bowes Museum with the same print.

Detail of center of a quilt made by Elizabeth Norman
Collection: Bowes Museum
See photos of this quilt at the PiecenPeace blog:
And see a better photo of it in Dorothy Osler's book North Country Quilts: Legend and Living Tradition from the Bowes Museum. (page 15).
Here's a link to one at the Bowes Museum website:

The center patchwork field in the Austen quilt is bordered by a field of  patchwork of smaller diamonds without the white grid. It looks like the border is on three sides here but I am guessing the top border is folded over in this photo...

...As it's displayed with a border over the pillow and at the foot of the bed. In some photos the border echoes the rather soft colors of the central diamond patchwork.

But in other photos there seems to be a clash of color as well as print style.
Here's a men's patchwork dressing gown from about 1820 in remarkably similar style in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
See the whole piece by clicking here:

  • The outer border is pieced of brighter fabrics
  • The outer border is pieced of smaller-scale fabrics.
  • The outer border seems to be pieced of roller printed calicoes rather than block printed furnishing prints.
  • Is the border later than the inner field?

There is a distinctive style difference in the prints in the two areas.
The inner patchwork looks more like the classic floral chintzes popular for furnishing fabrics. The outer diamonds look more like small calicoes that became quite popular in the teens when roller printing and new dye combinations began to change taste.

  • Is this a classic case of dawdling over a project so long that taste and technology completely changed?

 Perhaps the two Cassandras (mother and daughter) finished the quilt years after Jane's death in 1817.


Lynn S said...

I'm in heaven!! Thanks for this wonderful column!

Jill said...

Your questions give us so much to think about. Very interesting, as always with your posts.
Thanks for sharing so much great information with us.

Allison Aller said...

Wonderful, Barbara! And that Merikay is a wonder.....

Barbara Brackman said...

Oh she is. She knows everything and what's more she can find it--- either in her head, on her computer or in a file drawer.

Jacque said...

Barbara - I wonder if the beautiful basket print from Andover's John Hewson line might work in the center of a quilt like this?! The colors in the basket are really nice and soft.

Denniele said...

I love the border....great quilt but the border moves my heart! Thanks for reminding me.

Cathi said...

Do you know about the Jane Austen Patchwork Mystery book by Linda Franz? It goes along with an Inklingo collection for those wanting to make a reproduction of the Jane Austen quilt, and has the closest to actual shapes to match those in the Austen quilt.