Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Melting Pot: 19th Century Quilts

Early 19th century wholecloth chintz quilt
Last night, I did a lecture for the Westside Quilters Guild of Hillsboro, Oregon - another very fun group! The topic was "Melting Pot: Quilts from the 19th Century" and it was based on a self-published book I made for friends and family last Christmas. In the lecture, I gave an overview of quilt history from the earliest American wholecloth quilts, through the "best" quilts of the Civil War era, to the Victorian, Amish, and wool quilts of the late 19th century.

Nine-Patch Top, unknown maker, New England, c. 1830
The book was a survey of quilts from my collection and included various types of quilts. The lecture was more of a whirlwind tour of several important trends in quiltmaking during the 19th century. It was the first time I'd brought out the recently acquired wholecloth chintz quilt, which served as an example of type of quilt made from the 1760s through the second quarter of the 19th century. When discussing the quilt, I described some of the details and talked about imported fabrics and the advent of fabric production in America. By the 1840s, production was in full swing. The 1830s Nine-Patch top was made during the transitional period, when both imported and domestically produced fabrics were in use.

Detail: Album with Lyre, c. 1850, Mary Couchman Small, West Virginia
Block detail: MacMillan Family quilt, Monroe County, KY, 1868
The next two quilts represented the best of the "best" quilts from the Civil War era. First up was the Album with Lyre, which was hanging for the duration of the lecture. This quilt is among the finest examples of applique and quilting, and quilters always love getting up close to it. The MacMillan Family quilt, a variation of the pattern best known as New York Beauty, stirred a similar reaction from the audience. Both quilts are superlative examples of highly refined work, and both include solid, domestically produced fabrics.

Amish Nine-Patch crib quilt, c. 1900, Ohio
The last three quilts served as examples of the way quilters used color in late 19th century. Interestingly, the quilts also represented three different genres. I showed the Ohio-made Amish crib quilt from the Esprit Collection; the silk Diamonds quilt, a Victorian masterpiece related to the Crazy Quilt movement; and a wonderfully modern looking wool utility quilt. All three pieces displayed a darker palette with lush, earthy colors and rich jewel tones, and each quilt represented a specific type of fabric.

Block detail: utility quilt from the late 19th or early 20th century
Silk Diamonds, c. 1890 - I call it an "OCD" quilt
I always enjoy the reactions when people see these quilts for the first time. These reactions are probably similar to my own when I discover a great quilt. But beyond that, I love sharing what I've learned about quilts and quilt history. Many thanks to the Westside Quilters for inviting me to come lecture. I'm looking forward to visiting with the group again in the future! To check out the Westside Quilters Guild, click here.


  1. I'm really glad you like sharing your collection, Bill. I really enjoy looking at the photographs and hearing your adventures. (That "OCD quilt" is to die for. Wouldn't you just love to sit down with the quilter and pick their brain about their process and the life they lived?! I would!)

  2. We might need to bake a batch of crumpets and brew a pot of tea for the conversation with the OCD quilt maker! :)

  3. Last one is gorgeus and very fitting name indeed. Nice collection :)

  4. ooh, what a fabulous selection of quilts. I bet it was a great talk!

  5. Smile...a tea party...fabulous!