Dating antique fabric


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Quilts were almost always made of wool, unless they were remade from bed curtains or quilted petticoats. However, the idea that all early quilts were made of worn clothing is a myth. Not to say that there weren't any, but it is far more likely that a quilt would be made out of fabric bought specifically for that purpose, possibly to match bed curtains. It might also use the extra fabric left over after making clothes. While it is true that many women were weaving their own fabrics in the early 's, the tremendous time and energy needed to produce hand woven goods was generally not put into a luxury such as a quilt.

A home weaver would be more likely to weave a blanket or coverlet. Generally, quilts were made by wealthier Americans on the Eastern Seaboard who had access to a tremendous variety of fabrics brought in by ship. Many early quilts still in existence today, therefore, are either made of imported fabric or have some imported fabric along with the American. Backings were often of linen, which was considered a utility fabric.

Early 's quilts were usually large X , and often whole cloth quilts, or quilts of whole panels, such as the Tree of Life. It might be a medallion or a stripy style quilt. Sometimes you would find quilts made of plain blocks such as a simple Ohio star or nine patch alternating with a plain block.

Trapunto stuffed work quilts were made until the 's when their popularity waned. Glazed fabrics such as chintz see photo, left , roller prints and pillar prints were popular. Fabrics were glazed with egg whites or honey. Some quilt edges were finished with a fringe, particularly on the East Coast. Quilting was done in straight lines, often with double and triple quilting, although flowers, baskets, feathers and wreathes were not uncommon. The dye process was long and involved and colors changed depending on the mordents used.

Home dyes used onionskin, nut shells and bark to create yellows, browns and greens, but they were not used as commonly as myth has it. Reliable permanent dyes were widely available in the mid 's. However, green was considered fugitive - it often washed out or faded. In the early 's, it was made by overdoing yellow with blue.

Later in the century, the process was reversed, overdying blue with yellow. The applique quilts we now see with blue or tan leaves may have once been green. Another fugitive color, purple, could be made with lichens and seashells. Walnut hulls, hickory nut hulls, clay, or wood chips made brown.

Fabric Dating References - QuiltIndex

A deep brown with warm accents was made using manganese. Sumac, birch, oak, woodshed in general and iron made black. Indigo blue and turkey red were very reliable dyes as they were made by the process for which the color was named. Indigo blue was a deep blue, although Prussian Lafayette blue and light blue was also available.


Pinks and dark roses were also seen most likely made from a madder dyes. The picture on the right shows Turkey Red. Quilts were heavily quilted, often echo quilted or double quilted. Broderie Perse was an early 's fad. They were as large as ever, although as the century progressed they tended to become slightly smaller and sometimes had two corners cut out for bedposts.

Colors were bright and varied. The picture below shows an ombre print also called a rainbow print in the middle of the Ohio Star. The setting block is a fugitive double purple. The civil war and its aftermath brought a lot of changes to American women. Men took quilts with them to serve as bedding. If they were killed, they were often rolled in their bedding and buried. Quilts were also used to communicate the makers beliefs like abolition , smuggle messages and supplies through enemy lines and raise money. Research is still continuing on the belief that quilts were used to direct escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad.

The quilts that did come home were often in terrible condition. Some of the finest quilts still extant from this period came from the families of soldier who retrieved them from encampments or purchased them from soldiers who were using them as if they were a common blanket. One quilt was retrieved from the back of a dead mule! It was after the civil war that the scrap quilt became popular.

Tea Dying Fabric - How I achieve a vintage antiqued fabric look in my quilts

Due to the inevitable shortages of war, quilts really were made of discarded clothing at that time. Silk prices had come down around due to trading with the orient and many women had at least one good silk dress.

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But it was not useful for the hard work and shortages of everyday living most were forced to endure. The silk quilts popular during this period were probably made more out of sentiment and a need to keep busy while the men folk were away. The scraps of silk dresses and mens wear recalled happier times of balls and parties. The sewing machine, which was really invented in the late 's as a tool to make shoes, was redesigned and patented by Elias Howe, Jr. Howe's rival, Isaac Singer, received a patent in for an improved sewing machine, later adding a foot treadle for hands-free operation and a carrying case that doubled as a stand.

A Word About Dating Antique Fabrics

Singer's primary contribution to sewing machine history, however, was his marketing techniques. He was the Bill Gates of the 19th century. The installment plan, and a trade-in allowance, was his clever marketing plan to put a sewing machine the home of every American woman, and it did work!

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Late 19thc - early 20thc French fabrics run a width of approx 30"- 33". Vintage Barkcloth Era fabrics have a width of 33"- 36". Be sure to check the graphics as well. I constantly search out colorful cotton prints with a special affinity for Art Nouveau period fabrics. Although I don't specialize in toiles, early cotton toiles, for example, will have scenes that depict the era of its manufacture such as early 19thc copperplate grecian classical graphics or woodland designs of later manufacture. Also, vintage American barkcloth often has the manufacturer's name along the selvage.

Be sure to look for a patina from use. If you are dealing with chintz you will find the older, used pieces have lost much of their lustre while cretonne might appear as teastained or yellowed on the edges due to age.

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If you are a quilter, weight and thread-count are important tell-tale signs of age. Put it up to the light to check for pin pricks or holes that might compromise your project down the line. Also put your nose to use.. There might be mold dots or foxing stay away from these as beneath the foxing is deteriation.

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Don't be afraid to do a burn test on silk if you aren't sure if it is real or not silk will smell like burnt hair and turn to ash. Many pieces that Ruins-ca sells are old store or showroom samples that have never been used before and some even have their original showroom tags. The more you deal with older fabrics for your projects, the greater your appreciation for them will become and your experience in choosing them.

It is an addiction and you will become forever hooked. I am a Textileophile and I usually identify a vintage or antique fabric by its design, quality, the weave, the width, etc..