This 19th century quilt belongs to my friend, Julie. We have been studying it together for the last few weeks. I think it was constructed by two different people at least 20 years apart.
This quilt is only partly quilted and the edges are not finished. It measures about 70 x 84 inches. It has thirty 14 inch blocks, placed 5 across and 6 down. Today we call this block pattern, Lemoyne Star, but it has had many names over the years. At the time this quilt was made it was simply called Eight Point Star. Quilts with blocks placed side by side in a grid began to appear in the 1830’s. Before that, most American quilts had a center motif surrounded by borders of various kinds.
Each individual block is hand pieced with tiny even stitches. Notice the use of light in the blocks. The maker alternated the lights and darks in the center of each block and then sporadically used darker fabrics in the outside petals. This creates movement and adds sparkle when viewed from a distance.
This extreme close up shows the basting stitches in the unquilted area.
The fabrics in the blocks, the colors and block pattern all point to an early date. I would give them a circa date of 1850, which means anytime from 1840 – 1860. The blocks were contructed by an experienced seamstress using neat tiny stitches. All the points and seams line up perfectly. The colors compliment each other well. The placement of light and dark within the squares tells me that this person really understood the use of color and light.
The fabrics in the top are all of good quality. Those chintz fabrics were expensive and so were the turkey reds.
Tan, taupe and browns were common throughout the 19th century and this quilt has lots of them. The dyes of this era were unstable and many colors fadded from their original color to tan or taupe. Some of the browns in this quilt may have been purple, pink or green. In the photo above, the two fabrics on the bottom may have once been purple now fadded to tan.
In the center of most of the star’s there is a coloful chintz fabric alternating with a small print calico. Since the quilt has never been washed, I can still feel the glaze when I run my hand over them. The outside ‘petals’ are of various brightly colored calicos. Many of the chintz fabrics have been selectively cut to create secondary patterns in the stars.
These Prussian blue ombre chintz fabrics were very popular in the 1840’s and 50’s. The process for producing the shading from light to dark and back again was first manufactured in America in the 1830’s. The tan color in these fabrics may have originally been a pink that faded to tan.
Turkey red was available starting in 1810 when the dye process was first discovered. These fabrics appear in quilts throughout the first half of the century and became very popular in the 1850’s. The red dye was applied to the fabric and then small motifs were discharged and over-dyed with black, green, blue or yellow. Real turkey red fabrics are difficult to find today. The chemicals used to discharge the red dye and the modant used to produce the other colors have caused the fabrics to deteriorate. These are in perfect condition.
Pink has always been popular in quilts. What is called double pink or pink-on-pink first appeared in quilts in the middle of the 19th century, about 1840-50 and is still popular. You could walk into a quilt shop today and buy something that looks a lot like the pinks in this quilt. Large scale pink gingham was very popular in the 1850’s. In this section of the quilt all the blocks have a gingham center. The ones that appear tan where probably originally pink.
Brillant yellow and orange started appearing in quilts around the 1840’s as an accent to brown. It was also seen as a backgound for small red, black or brown prints. This color is sometimes called butterscotch and is seen a lot in quilts from Pennsylvania. It became more common in the 1860’s and was popular through the 1880’s.
Notice the little round circles of rust along the outside edge of the quilt. These are present at regular intervals all the way around the entire quilt and were likely caused by the metal clamps that held it in the quilting frame.
The blocks were assembled by machine. The sewing machine was commonly available in homes after 1856 when the Singer company introduced the installment plan. Many quilt makers continued to piece their blocks by hand, but used their machine to sew the long seams when putting them together.
The batting is a piece of white cotton flannel. With a seam down the center. In this photo you can see the poor workmanship in the seam down the center of the backing.
The backing is a bright solid yellow of a quality inferior to the fabrics in the blocks. This chrome yellow color was not available as a solid until about 1880. There is a clunky hand sewn seam down the center made with white thread. It is a variation of a blanket stitch which shows large white stitches on the outside of the backing. In this photo you can see the long uneven quilting stitches.
Looking at the piece as a whole, I see beautiful, well executed blocks, hand sewn by an experienced seamstress. The fabrics were available and popular around 1850. They were expensive and of good quality. The placement of color and the use of light within the blocks indicate someone with an eye for good design.
The overall construction of the piece is a different matter. The blocks were assembled by machine. They were laid out without regard to balance of color or design. It does not seem likely that the same person who sewed the tiny even stitiches in the blocks would have sewn the clunky seam down the center of the backing. The backing fabric is of a poorer quality than the fabrics on the front of the piece. It was not available until 20 years or more after the fabrics on the front. The quilting stitches are big and uneven.
There are various possible explanations for the difference in skill level between the blocks themselves and the assembled top.
It is possible that someone made the blocks before the war when she was younger and more affluent. After the war she was older, her hands were not as agile and she had less money to spend on materials.
But, I think that two different people worked on this quilt. One, experienced and talented made the blocks before the war and put them away for some reason. Someone else discovered them later and tried to finish them, but just didn’t have the same skill level.
Of course, we will never know for sure, because there is no label or signature on this quilt.