Friday, September 18, 2015

"Sweet Little Calicoes"

"Sweet little calicoes" is a term I thought I'd invented. When describing Janis Pearson's 1972 Star Quilt during my special exhibit tours at QuiltCon 2015, I referred to the nice selection of sweet little calicoes. After the tour, I ran into Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections for the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. We were drawn to one of the 1970s quilts, and the words "sweet little calicoes" came out of her mouth. But she hadn't been on the tour.

Laughing, I admitted calling them "sweet little calicoes" as well. Of course, it is not the endorsed, academic nomenclature. It's just what Carolyn and I call the fabrics, and we were in complete agreement. I think it's because they are sweet; and you could call the mostly-small-scale prints little. 

I have blogged about Janis Pearson's Star Quilt in the past, but earlier this week I saw Janis at the Northwest Quilters meeting, and got another nugget of information. She thought she'd found the fabrics at the Singer shop in Portland, one of the few shops carrying cottons you could use for quilting at the time. 

The multicolor calicoes look like they belong together. The blue, with its pops of yellow, goes with the yellow. The red fabric goes with the yellow fabric because each has flowers of the other's dominant color. It could have been one fabric line, but not necessarily, since calicoes came in a multitude of colors. The Double Wedding Ring quilt from Colorado, seen in yesterday's blog, has an even larger selection.

Using so many colors throughout a design could easily be disharmonious, but not with the sweet little calicoes of the 1970s. Rather than assaulting you with color, these fabrics dance. In today's lingo, they play well together.

Janis Pearson's Star Quilt is part of an eye-opening group of barely-vintage quilts, currently on display in  "Modern Materials, Quilts of the 1970s" at the Benton County Museum in Philomath, Oregon. For more information about the exhibition, location, hours,  and other venues showing quilts during Quilt County 2015, click here.


  1. Love those "sweet little calicoes". We made our "hippie" or "prairie dresses" out of them.

  2. I have a thousand pyramid quilt and a log cabin top that I made with those sweet little calicoes. As a young girl I worked at a J C Penney store when they carried the 36" wide calicoes. I bought many 1/8 yard pieces so I could make my first scrappy quilt which was the thousand pyramid quilt.

  3. My mom made all our clothes when I was a kid, and Little House on the Prairie and Holly Hobby were big back then... so most of my dresses had accompanying bonnets - every one of them was made with "sweet little calicoes" just like these. IMHO, they make much better quilts!! Thanks for the nostalgia ;)

  4. The Star Quilt is gorgeous! Thanks for the Quilt County 2015 listing too, I had no idea.


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  6. I would LOVE to have those sweet little calicoes in my stash to play with! So pretty.