Saturday, May 17, 2014

old quilts - edge finishes

applied binding, blue resist whole cloth quilt, c. 1760-1800
Call me a nerd, but one of my favorite topics came up today when someone on Facebook asked a question about edge finishes for wholecloth quilts. Although I think the question was geared more toward standards for judging in today's shows, I love very old quilts and especially love to study their edge finishes, so I had to share a few old quilts and talk about the edge finishes.

blue resist wholecloth quilt, c. 1760-1800 

There were several types of edge finishing seen in the earliest American quilts, such as applied binding, knife-edge, fringe, applied twill tape and top or back fabric brought to the opposite side. The blue resist quilt, c. 1760-1800 from the eastern United States, has an applied binding, and it was done with a fabric that was different from the top fabric.

wool wholecloth, c. 1790, New England
The wool whole cloth T-shaped quilt, c. 1790 from New England, has an edge finish of top fabric brought to the back.

wool wholecloth, c. 1790, top fabric brought from front to back for binding
Applied twill tape was popular in many forms starting around the turn of the century. Sometimes this tape is called "Trenton Tape" because one popular type of twill tape was manufactured in Trenton, N.J. That particular tape had greenish blue lines running through it, but it is not necessarily what is seen on all quilts. I have a couple quilts with twill tape. One is an 1810 wool Economy Block from New England with two different colors of hand-loomed wool twill tape - red on three sides and green on the other side.

Economy Block, c. 1810, New England
red hand loomed twill tape, Economy Block, c. 1810, New England
Another example of the tape binding is on a whole cloth chintz quilt, c. 1820 from the eastern U.S. This example is closer to the Trenton Tape, but not exactly it. There is one greenish band of color, and one white.

wholecloth chintz quilt, c. 1820, eastern U.S.
tape binding, wholecloth chintz quilt, c. 1820, eastern U.S.
Fringe was used in some of the early quilts, such as the wholecloth whitework "Trapunto" Willow Tree quilt from New England, c. 1790-1820. There are actually two Willow Tree quilts in my collection, and the first has a fringe that appears to be part of a twill tape. The second quilt appears at first to be a knife-edge binding, but is really top cloth brought from front to back.

The Willow Tree quilt #1, c, 1790-1820, New England
fringe edge finish, The Willow Tree quilt #1
The Willow Tree quilt #2, New England, c. 1800-1820
edge finish, The Willow Tree quilt #2, New England, c. 1800-1820
edge finish, The Willow Tree quilt #2, New England, c. 1800-1820
Although it is not a wholecloth quilt, the chintz appliqué counterpane attributed to Achsah Goodwin Wilkins, now part of the collection at the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C., also has a narrow tape binding.
applique counterpane, c. 1815-1820, DAR Museum
edge finish, applique counterpane, c. 1815-1820, DAR Museum
Another early quilt, not a wholecloth but a very early American pieced quilt from Rhode Island, c. 1800, has a knife edge binding with stitching along the edge.
pieced quilt, c. 1800, Rhode Island
knife-edge finish, stitched along the edge, pieced quilt, c. 1800, Rhode Island
I really appreciate the nuances of edge finishes and how they help us date quilts. These details are exactly what I love to study. I do not know if any of this information will help the person asking about edge finishes, but I hope so. 


  1. nice post. It wan't until the 70's-90's when applied binding became the standard that most judges seemed to use. Add to that an mitered applied binding. There are so many ways of doing bindings that could work as well or better on a quilt! (my personal opinion!)

  2. I agree...nice post. People have their favorites. I like a binding that you dont see. Can be faced, same fabric as border but rarely do I like a frame/contrast. Like historical q uilts, it needs to suit the quilt & most importantly, finish the edge.

  3. very interesting details you shared with us! I hadn't seen fringe edge before, but of course it would have to exist.

  4. This is very interesting! As a self taught quilter I finished my first quilts all different ways. I even have one quilt with both knife edge and backing pulled to front. Who knew it was in this interesting tradition.