Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The New Oldest Quilt in My Collection

This one's an oldie and a goodie. It's an 18th century American block-printed indigo resist wholecloth quilt. What a rare and beautiful thing it is!

There is a quilt with the same print at the John Brown House in Providence, Rhode Island- a place I remember well from my first two years of college at Rhode Island School of Design from 1984 to 1986. That quilt dates to approximately 1750, and the print is an absolute match.

According to a Quilt Index essay called "Rhode Island's Early Quilts" by Linda Welters, printed whole cloth quilts were designed to show off the latest textiles from overseas, primarily England and France. Early indigo resist fabrics were printed with various types of printing plates, from carved wood to engraved copper.

French indigo resist, c. 1780 - the previous oldest quilt in my collection
The resist printing technique was done by block printing a cellulose resist paste on to cotton and flax fabric, and immersing the fabric in an indigo dye, which would turn blue upon exposure to air. The American examples include rich blues in various tones on white or cream colored backgrounds. French examples were often a deeper blue and included picotage- a method of printing dots using carved wooden printing plates studded with metal nails or tacks.

If you have a copy of "Down By The Old Mill Stream: Quilts in Rhode Island" by Linda Welters and Margaret Ordonez, you can see a picture of the quilt that's now at the John Brown House and read a little more about it. And for now, my new quilt is hanging over the banister- a very handsome, albeit temporary addition to my living room decor.


  1. This one may not have actually been a quilt as early as your other one, but the fabric is probably earlier. Since the fabrics were first used as bed hangings, I would estimate the date of the quilt itself as c. 1800, wouldn't you?

    1. Good question. I wondered the same thing, but I've seen pictures of bed hangings with this fabric (Jan Whitlock), and I'm just not sure the fabrics in this quilt were originally used for that purpose. Bed hangings were larger pieces of fabric, so the size, shape and number of top pieces didn't seem to add up. Seems almost more like leftover bits after the bed hangings were made. When I get back to Providence, I'll bring the quilt and see if I can view both quilts together.

  2. Beautiful fabric, reminiscent of batik. A lovely thing.

  3. I would love to own just a reproduction of indigo resist fabric from this period (over $150/yard in dec fabric). You are so fortunate to have found the real thing! Congratulations!