Wednesday, May 31, 2017

very old wool quilts

Wholecloth quilts made of wool were among the earliest American quilts. The course, heavy wool bedcovers appeared in New England in the middle to late 18th century. Two wonderful examples arrived yesterday. Both of them were made in the 1790 to 1810 period. The first one is reversible and T-shaped, made for a tall, four-post bed. It is green on one side and yellow ochre on the other.

From far away the quilt seems very plain because of the solid fabric. There is some unevenness due to fading and color loss, but each side is a single color. Up close, it is a masterpiece.

The quilting is beautifully planned, with whimsical botanical motifs framed by double lines of quilting in a lattice grid. The center panel is framed with undulating feathers on the side and foot panels, and filled with parallel, diagonal lines. So simple, but so elegant.

There are sweet little details, such as the quilted heart at the center of the foot panel. The edge finish is what we might call a pillow-edge or knife-edge. If you don't know what that is, just Google it. A few years ago I blogged about the various types of edge finishes seen in very old quilts. To read more, click here.

The second quilt is from the same period and region, but it is a little more simple than the first quilt. It is a rich reddish brown color, almost purple in the right light, with an overall design of connected, repeating and overlapping circular motifs forming a lattice grid. The negative space is filled with parallel lines and diamond grid quilting, in rows.

From across the room, it would look like a brown rectangle hanging on the wall. Up close it is very rich. I look forward to spending more time studying these quilts, recording some of the specifics such as dimensions, and comparing them with other quilts from the same period and region. I have one other wool wholecloth from New England, c. 1790, a pieced quilt from Rhode Island, c. 1800, and another pieced quilt from New England, c. 1810. Here are those three quilts.

wool wholecloth, New England, c. 1790
wool geometric pieced quilt, Rhode Island, c. 1800
wool geometric pieced quilt, New England, c. 1810
To reiterate a point I made in a blog post last year, early American quilts were elegant objects made by affluent families. They made frugal use of the available materials, but they were hardly making scrap quilts. It's fun to look at a group of them, see trends and also the things that make each object unique. There's nothing like handling quilts when it comes to learning about them. 


  1. Simply beautiful. Whole cloth wool quilts are among my favorites. Odd, since I rarely use solids, but I love the look and the feel of the early wool quilts. Thanks for sharing these beauties.

  2. These are all so beautiful and intricate!

  3. Beautiful! I love the intricate details.

  4. What amazing workmanship there is in these quilts!

  5. Those are so beautiful. I love how the quilting patterns make the statement instead of piecing!

  6. Thank you for sharing these treasures!