Thursday, February 24, 2011

Signs of Age

The quilt has a tiny cross-stitched inscription (click to enlarge)
How do you know when a quilt is old - really old? There are always signs of age. Sometimes these signs are apparent in the condition - fading, bleeding, foxing, fraying, discoloration, deterioration, stains, and the overall patina of the quilt. Other times, age is evident in the details of the construction.

Wool Economy Patch, c. 1810, New England
I've wanted more information about this old wool Economy Patch quilt ever since I first acquired it. The dealer was rather secretive about where it had come from, with the exception of a few details. It was supposed to be from New England, made in the early 19th century, and possibly included late 18th century fabrics. The quilt had some signs of age related to condition - frayed binding, a couple small holes, and minor bleeding.

The quilt is bound with loosely woven, hand-loomed wool twill tape
When offered the option of restoring the quilt, particularly the binding, I said no without even hesitating. One of the things I really loved about the quilt was its original, untouched condition. Even though the binding is frayed and unraveling in spots, there is no way any other binding would've looked right to me. I'd never seen this type of tape binding. It looked old - really old.

Twill binding from an 1810 coverlet recently viewed on eBay
Over the years, there have been one or two doubters who didn't believe my quilt was from 1810. One person suggested it could be from 1840, but that idea just didn't make sense to me. The quilt resembled nothing I'd ever seen from the mid 19th century. As I've continued to look for clues, something popped up on eBay this week. A listing for a Pennsylvania double weave coverlet, c. 1810, had a detail photo with the same type of hand-loomed twill binding.

I've always believed the twill binding on my quilt was a sign of age, and it's caused me to look closely at other details. The back of the quilt is woven coverlet fabric. I've heard it called a "colonial overshot" coverlet, but haven't consulted with enough weaving experts to verify it.

One other detail that's recently piqued my curiosity is a tiny cross-stitch inscription (pictured at top). I'd had the quilt for a year or two before I realized there was an inscription. It's difficult to read, and I'm not sure if I'm looking at it right side up or upside down, but I believe it says JPA with a 6 underneath. The style of lettering is very much like what I've seen in mid to late 18th century and early 19th century samplers.

Letting from a cross-stitch sampler, c. 1760
Of course, now I'm wondering if the style of lettering in the inscription is another sign of the quilt's age. I have a feeling it may be.


  1. You are the second post this morning that has talked about something read or seen on ebay. I am sort of amazed as I do not believe ANYTHING I read on ebay about items unless I can see it printed in a photo. Sure the seller is supose to tell the truth, but..... there are so many outs.... and most of the time more money is the motivating factor.

    How do you know if something in the description is correct, maybe correct, or not correct???

  2. I've traded on eBay for ten years and will be doing a talk on the subject this summer at the Quilter's Affair in Sisters. One of the topics will be how to assess a listing to determine whether or not the information is correct. I, too, approach eBay listings with a certain measure of skepticism. Without giving it all away, I'll say that success on eBay depends on the very same concepts that apply to buying antiques. The burden is on the buyer to be informed, to ask questions, and to double-check with published information and experts in the field.

  3. Bill, Linens were consecutively numbered and initialed so the mistress of the house could properly keep track of what she had and make sure all would wear evenly. Cross-stitch letters were used up to about 1850 when the 'fashion' for that type of work went out and Berlin work came in style. Inks were used more frequently the closer it got to the middle of the century.

    Put up a full picture of the back. From the little I can see, it doesn't look like an overshot.


  4. Hi Jan, Check your e-mail. I just sent you two pictures of the back.

  5. Wow, what a beautiful piece. Love reading your intriquing analyses...