Monday, May 21, 2012

Dressed Pictures

The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, where I volunteer in the quilt department, has an unusual pictorial bedcover. Nancy Hornback, who has studied it extensively, believes it to be about 1790-1810 and made in England.

 Pictorial Quilt
Collection of the Spencer Museum of Art
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Harold D. Hedges
 in memory of Mr. & Mrs. R. Lockard

I wrote the catalog copy for this quilt for an exhibit there a few years ago and I realized I knew very little about the context of the times, British history, the Napoleanic Wars, Austen-era England and early patchwork in either America or England. So I began to read---hence, this blog.

The center area features a grassy commons or churchyard with festively dressed figures raking mounds of hay or grass. The yard is framed by a pair of classical columns hung with floral vines.
Read about a sampler with haystacks here:

The figures are neither embroidered nor appliqued, but are a type of three-dimensional stump work known as a "dressed pictures," figures cut from paper and clad in fabric. The dressed figures are then stitched to fabric.

The border is full of oval vignettes with similar figures. Nancy Hornback has written:
"Some of the scenes, viewed in sequence, seem to tell a story: a woman and a man meet; he porposes; he goes off on a ship; they marry, she gets news of peace; he rides home; she presents him with twins."

The fabric is wrapped around the paper bodies, tucked, pleated, ruffled and stitched. Details are embroidered.

They are like paper dolls but with fabric clothing wrapped around them.

 There are also several dogs.

Some of the paper bodies and silk faces have deteriorated but the fabrics in the clothing have held up well.

Dressed pictures were a relatively popular needlework technique before photography.

Here's a framed dressed picture of George Washington

The face is cut from a print

Another George Washington portrait, this one in silhouette fashion.

A portrait of a woman
These hold up better in a frame than in a bed covering.

I used the technique to make several Jane Austen
dressed pictures from my line of Hartfield fabric.
A dressed picture makes a lovely card.

The technique never really died out. For example: the 1870 Iowa State Fair awarded $2 for the best dressed picture to Miss Nina White of Keokuk. During the 1920-1950 era women made dressed pictures in tulles and satins as in the example above.

And then there was this baby picture fad...

In her book Wrapped in Glory on the topic of pictorial quilts with human figures Sandi Fox shows two late 19th-century crazy quilts that use a similar technique. The faces in the Leila Butts quilt on the cover are made of a stiff fabric and those in the Eudotia Sturgis Wilcox quilt faces are of leather, material that would hold up better than paper. If you loved dressing paper dolls you might consider making some dressed pictures.


Rosemary Youngs said...

What a beautiful and interesting quilt, an amazing piece of history as well.

Becky in VA said...

"Dressed Pictures" is such an interesting post. What an amazing quilt and the close-ups are just wonderful.

WoolenSails said...

I have seen some of these types of quilts in the books and love them. I was wondering how they did such detailed work, I wonder if using fusible papers would be a nice way to try one.


Sandra said...

What a striking quilt. Definitely looks English.