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.

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