Thursday, March 17, 2011

Important Rhode Island Quilt

I've been trying to keep the news under wraps until the quilt arrives on my doorstep and I can get better pictures of it, but just couldn't contain myself. Last Friday, in a thrilling eBay auction that saw the bid skyrocket from $765 to $5,167.89 in the last ten seconds of the auction, I won a very important quilt from Rhode Island. It was a bidding war, for sure, but I was ready. Something told me I'd be going up against other snipers and the quilt would reach the $5000 range. Sure enough, there was another sniper who bid $5088.88 in the final six seconds. Snipers like to use odd numbers.

My thought: "Worth. Every. Penny."

The quilt was made around 1800, and it is made from glazed wool, with the same shiny appearance seen in calamanco wholecloth quilts. But this quilt is an extremely rare surviving pieced quilt. The glazed wool was often made of fabric with a linen warp and a woolen weft, commonly referred to as linsey-woolsey, or with worsted wool. I'm not sure which type of wool it is, but it shines with a glaze that could have been done with wax, albumen (egg white), or most likely heat and pressure.

I'd never seen another quilt like it available on the open market and don't expect to see another one any time soon. The quilt is in very good condition with light moth damage on the top - after all, it's something like 200 years old and made of wool - and a few minor water stains. The quilt was made for a four-poster bed and is a "T" shaped cutout. The central panel is a watermelon or coral color with five multicolored eight-pointed star blocks including a larger block in the center.

All solid fabrics, the center panel is bordered on four sides with a harlequin-like design made of watermelon colored squares and multicolored half squares. The cornerstones are eight-pointed, LeMoyne stars, and the side flaps are brilliant royal with feather vine quilting. The quilting design also includes a four-petaled, elliptical botanical design with two rows of quilting running through the center of each of the four connected ellipses. I've seen a similar quilting design with the elliptical shapes called pumpkin seed, but these may look more like laurel leaves. The quilt has a plain light/white back fabric and a knife-edge binding.

After scouring the internet for more information about early pieced glazed wool quilts, I found only a few comparable quilts. One is in the American Folk Art Museum in New York - the famous "Harlequin Medallion" quilt, also from New England. Two others, found in the Quilt Index database, are from Rhode Island.

I am just delighted to know this quilt is headed to Oregon. We don't see objects like this here very often, if at all. It's not at all what you find at the typical Oregon estate sale, auction, or antique dealer. The bulk of the market here is essentially very ordinary looking Depression Era quilts. The quilt is rare, old, vibrant, and probably one of the most important quilts I've ever bought. I'm especially pleased that it's coming from Rhode Island. For two years from 1984 to 1986 I attended Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Perhaps this quilt could go to the RISD Museum in the future.


  1. What a wonderful piece of historical textile history you have . I think I have only seen one other linsey woolsey quilt come up on ebay in the past 8 years. You are becoming quite a sniper. Well done.

  2. Glad to see it is going to a good home.
    I can't believe how often we are interested in the same items.
    I'm just happy you didn't spy the stunning quaker signature quilt I got from Pook earlier this year.
    I'm constantly amazed by the treasures that continue to surface.

  3. It is a terrific quilt Bill. I look forward to seeing more photos once you have it in your hot hands!

  4. Congratulations! It is absolutely gorgeous. So happy this will be in Oregon--my original home state--now.

  5. Thank you for sharing, this and all the wonderful quilts in your collection.

  6. Having spent some time in Rhode Island during my college years, I could totally see this quilt in a well-appointed, post-Revolutionary War home in a place like Providence. I walked everywhere when I lived there, and the very old homes are painted with these types of colors, both exterior and interior. During the grey winter months, these colorful homes had even greater charm.

  7. An incredible find! Congratulations on the winning bid.
    The colors in the quilt are so lovely particularly the blue.
    We have family in Providence & are on the lookout for The OOP Down By The Old Mill Stream - a book I have long coveted. Wonder if your quilt was included in that documentation??
    Looking forward to more photos!

  8. That must have been one HIGH bed (trundle underneath ?) by the look of the 'cut out'!

  9. Okay, so if I get to Oregon this summer what will it take to get to see this quilt in person?
    What an amazing addition to your wonderful collection.

  10. Thank you all for such wonderful comments!

    taylorsoutback- I don't know if it's been documented. It's not on the Quilt Index and the seller got it fresh out of an estate. It may just be one of those undiscovered early masterpieces we all dream about finding.

    Jean- You're right, and I think the beds would've been this high in Providence at the time. I've seen homes with period decor, and the beds were often quite high.

    Lynn- I'll be speaking at the Quilter's Affair in Sisters and will be bringing a big group of my best quilts including this one. But if you're not here for Sisters, just come visit my home. I'll make cookies. :)

  11. What a delicious find! Can't believe it has surfaced, and it is a gem. Congratulations!

  12. What a wonderful score! I'll bet you were "over the moon" happy to have won it? Thank you for sharing this stunner.