Thursday, March 16, 2017

an oldie, but a goodie

This phenomenal T-shaped quilt took long to arrive. It came from an auction at Copake Auction in New York, and they run very good auctions, but their shippers seemed a little overwhelmed. The auction was February 18th, and the quilt arrived almost a month later. Worth the wait, but it made me a little anxious.

The auction description said the quilt was from the 1880s. I had a feeling just by looking at the photos, their date was a little off. The quilt was a good bit older than that. Understandable, though, because the copperplate printed fabrics and colors of the 1880s share similarities with fabrics made half a century earlier.

There were a few things about this quilt that sent me to an earlier date. The fabrics were part of it, and I had to look closely at Eileen Trestain's first Dating Fabrics book to get a clearer idea. The overall size, construction, frugal use of coordinating fabrics and age patina also pointed to an earlier time. My feeling is the quilt was made in the 1830s, perhaps a bit earlier but not much later than that.

The quilt is 98" x 111" and made of fine cotton fabrics, beautifully copperplate printed. The two reddish fabrics coordinate but do not match. It looks like the maker ran out and had to substitute along the right edge and lower drop, where the colors look slightly lighter from a distance. It seems as if the maker didn't want it to be too obvious there wasn't enough of the one fabric to cover the whole project, an earlier tendency seen in several of the other quilts I have handled.

The back fabric is a tan cotton that was probably off-white originally. That's where the age patina is. One of my favorite details is the applied binding. It is very fine, about 1/4" wide, and is all pieced with fabrics that coordinate with the patchwork. However, in places the seams of the binding don't go the same direction as the patchwork. Oops!

The auction listing described the quilt as having cut out corners, but that's exactly it. The corners were not cut out, they were never there. The quilt was made to fit a four-post bed. It was not refashioned and repurposed. Judging by the depth of the drops, it was a small but high-off-the-ground bed, the kind you might see in a fine New England home, in or within reach of a port city.

It almost goes without saying the overall design with its dark and light chevrons all facing one center point is exceptionally dramatic and modern. That's another reason why it was easy to think this quilt was a good bit younger than it really was. It's an oldie, but a goodie.


  1. So happy to hear it arrived safely. It is a treasure. We (in New England) actually do refer to this shape as "cutout" (for lack of a better word) even though we know there was never any fabric "cut away". Many early statewide documentations referred to them as "T-Shaped". Jeannette Lasansky did a wonderful paper on this in the 1990's. Her research showed that most of them originated in Maine. When we did a documentation on one of the outer islands, we found that they were still making this shape well into the 20th century. Thanks for taking on the care and feeding of this treasure.

  2. Love your detective work! Stunning quilt with a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. It certainly is a wonderful quilt and I'd say earlier than 1880's too, for sure. They didn't do the 4 poster cut-outs at that time. Love the use of the different fabric. I love everything about it!