Monday, September 10, 2018

The Dating Game: Education

Why do I believe this quilt was made between 1976 and 1986?
The other day, someone called me a "quilt whisperer" because I appeared to magically know things about old quilts. It wasn't magic. I studied quilts, and you can, too. A great place to start is "Clues in the Calico" by Barbara Brackman.

In a recent blog, "Circa Dating Old Quilts" I wrote about Brackman's system and how it involved looking at five characteristics in old quilts--fabric, style, color, technique, and pattern. The basic premise was that each quilt had a specific set of characteristics which, when compared with dated examples, could lead us to well-educated determinations of circa dates.
Sometimes we are fortunate to have quilts with inscriptions and dates. I found "Interacting Pyramids" (1974) by Barbara McKie in an antiques shop in Aurora, Oregon last year. The inscription led to finding the artist and corresponding with her about the quilt.

Posting photos of the quilt on social media led to finding it in print. The quilt first appeared in "The Complete Guide To Quilting" by Audrey Heard and Beverly Pryor, published in 1974.

We are also fortunate to find specific fabrics with their own circa dates in some quilts. A wholecloth quilt found in Connecticut had two blue and white copperplate printed fabrics from the late 18th century. 

These fabrics gave us valuable information about when the quilt could have been made. To read more about it, see my blog post, "Eighteenth Century Fabrics" (May 24, 2018).

Other types of clues appear in quilts, but sometimes they require more information. The NBC Quilt is a good example. It has specific materials, style and method of construction as other quilts do, but the most specific clue is the NBC "N" logo, which is called the "Trapezoid N".

"Trapezoid N" logo, introduced in 1976 for NBC's 50th Anniversary
This logo was used in the middle to late 1970s, and was created as part of NBC's 50th anniversary. It was in use between 1976 and 1986, but in 1979 NBC introduced an updated version of the Trapezoid N with an NBC peacock. It was called the "Proud N" logo and was in use from 1979 to 1986.

"Proud N" logo, in use from 1979-1986

"Modern Peacock" logo, introduced in 1986

In 1986, the "Modern Peacock" logo was introduced, and it did not have any Trapezoid N design element. The Trapezoid N has been absent from the NBC logo ever since. To read more about the history of the NBC logos, click here.

Tilton Family Quilt, c. 1840, Burlington County, N.J.
Sometimes what you know is only as good as what you have seen. Several years ago, I took the appraisal skills courses offered by the American Quilters Society in Paducah. At one point, we broke off into small groups to look at a quilt and determine the circa date. I commented about edge finishes being clues, saying, "You won't find a 1/16th-inch piped binding in a 1970s quilt," or something to that effect.

the quilt has a 1/16th-inch, piped binding
One of the instructors, who seemed unhappy any time someone in the class knew something she did not, overheard the comment. She said, "You will never see a 1/16th-inch, piped binding on any quilt!" and stormed off before I could tell her about the Tilton Family Quilt in my collection.

The stunning, 1840s Mariner's Compass quilt has an exquisite, very narrow piped binding. It varies slightly in width but is 1/16th-inch at its narrowest, and 1/8th-inch at its widest. The instructor obviously had no knowledge of the Tilton Family Quilt, but I did.

If I had to choose a moniker, it would be "quilt magnet" rather than quilt whisperer, but either way, there needs to be education. Quilt history is a relatively new field, and up to this point, the type of knowledge we find in other fields is mostly gleaned from independent study. There are always clues in the calico. Look carefully at all the clues, and how to date old quilts is the very least of what you could learn.

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