November 2, 2016

A Profusion of Red

One of the many pleasures of attending the American Quilt Study Group Seminar in Tempe last September was meeting fellow-attendees Joy Swartz from Prescott, Arizona, and Florence McConnell from Manteca, California.  Lynda had spoken with Florence several times while writing a blog post about some Quaker blocks Florence had purchased that were made by members of the Bunting family. (Refer to our post dated April 15, 2015.)  Knowing our interest in Quaker quilts, Florence introduced Lynda to Joy who had, in tow, a quilt made with red print fabrics her husband had recently purchased at auction. The quilt had been described as "Quaker" and Lynda agreed to take a look at it and give her opinion.

Photo of a portion of the quilt that appeared in an auction catalog.  Courtesy of
Barbara Brackman.
Joy brought the quilt to the hotel room Lynda was sharing with Alice Kinsler and the three of them spread it out on one of the beds where Lynda took photographs of all of the blocks and the inscriptions either hand-written or stamped on them.  It was obvious that the names would have to be researched to determine whether or not there were Quaker identities present and Lynda volunteered to do the research. 
Alice (left) and Joy with the quilt. Photograph by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.
The white border, backing, and red print binding of the quilt were added to a much earlier central portion that features blocks appliqued with quarter-circles in the four corners and a central circle (resembling a Cheerio) where names and other inscriptions are added.  Two of the quilt blocks display dates - one, with an accompanying verse, is dated 1848 and another is dated 1857.  The central portion of the quilt measures approximately 75 X 75 inches and is comprised of seven 10 1/2 inch blocks across and seven down.  The more modern border is eleven inches wide, is mitered at the corners, and bears a modern red print, 3/8 inches wide, as binding.  An interesting feature of the quilt is the use of a chain stitch to affix some of the block elements to the white fabric beneath them.  The rest are affixed using a hand-applique stitch.
Block with elements affixed using a chain stitch.
Block displaying both hand-applique and chain stitching.
Lynda is in the process of researching the names that appear on the quilt and has so far identified at least two families who were members of the Religious Society of Friends. When she has finished more of her research, she will provide additional posts that tell the stories the quilt reveals.
Meanwhile, Florence McConnell called to point out that two photos of the quilt's blocks appear in Susan W. Greene's remarkable book on textiles titled Wearable Prints, 1760-1860.  Hoping to learn more about the origins of the quilt, Lynda contacted Susan to see if she knew who had owned the quilt before Joy's husband bought it at auction.  It turned out that Susan, herself, was the prior owner but she too had bought it at auction with little information about provenance.  Her main interest was the large number of different, pristine red prints (thirty by her count) used in the quilt.  She incorporated photographs of two of the blocks in her book (page 340) as illustrations related to the topic "Colored Discharge on Turkey Red and Madder."
The discharge technique was developed in 1811 by Alsatian textile manufacturers Koechlin & Freres using chemical means to bleach out (or discharge) patterns from already colored cloth, especially indigo blue and Turkey reds.  The technique was refined over time by the use of pastes containing various colorants to produce red prints bearing multiple colors and elaborate patterns.  These prints, mainly imported from France and England in the early to mid-nineteenth century, were popular for making children's clothing and often found their way into album quilts and the red and green quilts favored by mid-Atlantic quilt makers, including Quakers.
Reproduction "Quaker" quilt made by Lynda Salter Chenoweth for Mary Holton Robare.
Whatever stories will be told by Joy's quilt when sufficient research is completed, the center of the quilt itself provides a small "encyclopedia" of red print fabrics (some of which may be Turkey reds) available at the time it was made.  That time may end up being a range, such as 1845-1860, unless Lynda's research results in pin-pointing people and events that narrow the time span.
Photograph courtesy of Susan W. Greene.
Our thanks to Joy Swartz for generously making the quilt available for study and presentation on our blog, and to Florence McConnell and Susan W. Greene for contributing information about the quilt and its fabrics.
Greene, Susan W.  Wearable Prints, 1760-1860, History, Materials, and Mechanics.  Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2014.
Storey, Joyce.  The Thames and Hudson Manual of Textile Printing.  New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 1987.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.







  1. I have a Turkey red quilt block that was found in Maine that is appliqued with this chain stitch. Thanks for a wonderful post.