Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Stars in a Time Warp 27: Quercitron and Arborescent Chintzes

A drab-style reproduction star by Bettina Havig

 Detail of a quilt from Stella Rubin's shop

Reproduction block by Becky Brown

That curious yellow was originally printed with quercitron, a fast yellow vegetable dye suitable for printing.

The fugitive yellow (not quercitron) is barely visible in this chintz.
When it was brighter the leaves were greener.

Yellows in natural dyes are abundant, but fast yellows suitable for printing were hard to find. Yellow’s unreliability is a reason we see so many blue leaves in old botanical chintzes like the one above.

Vintage quilt
The yellow figure in the border may have
been printed with quercitron dye.

Textile historian Peter Floud considered the discovery of a faster, printable yellow England’s major contribution to 18th century-dye chemistry.

Vintage pillar print possibly printed with quercitron

About 1785 Englishman Edward Bancroft visited Massachusetts and found Americans using yellow dye from the bark of the North American black oak tree. He obtained an English patent for black oak bark and coined the word ‘quercitron" from the Latin quercus for oak and citrina, probably referring to a yellow fruit.

Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Floud's example of a "drab-style" print is this
pillar print printed with quercitron.
Note it's also printed with a fancy ground.

When Bancroft’s fifteen-year patent expired in 1800, British mills created a rage for the dye called "bark" in the trade. It was inexpensive; it was colorfast and the color combinations were novel. Quercitron's palette of yellow, green and brown came to be called "drab." 

Back of a quilt  dated 1846 from the 
Nickol's collection at the Mingei Museum

Green, brown and yellow: the major characteristics of drab-style prints.

Pansy, vintage print  from the collection of the 
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Becky's repro star uses the same quercitron copy as Bettina's,
courtesy of my scrapbag. I've been collecting this
color combination for quite a while.

My dictionary still defines drab as a light olive brown, but today's common meaning is dull or commonplace. Describing quercitron’s color scheme as drab style confuses us because there is nothing dull or commonplace about it. Bright mustards set against dark brown grounds with shades of olive green can be quite vivid.

Drab-style birds in a Baltimore album block

A drab-style print borders this hexagon quilt
pictured on the cover of Massachusetts Quilts

Jeremy Adamson dated the English fad for drab prints to 1800-1812 but the fashion seems to have continued in American quilts through the first quarter and into the 1830s and ‘40s.

French swatchbook with several drab syle prints, 1825
You see a lot of mustard yellows and red, but
technically these are not drab-style.

Drab-style prints included all the shades possible from quercitron, including a blue. Florence Montgomery made the point that is really the absence of reds and purples that defines drab. In theory, dyers could print cotton in drab style shades first and then print with madder to obtain the full range of colors from yellow and green through red and purple, but this doubling of techniques was expensive and, she noted, rarely done.

Vintage chintz about 1825
I include olives, browns and mustards with red
in the quercitron category of vintage prints.

Drab-style prints were a favorite for arborsecent prints---chintzes with gnarly tree branches.

Arborescent chintz with a pale green background.
The overdyed greens and bright yellow indicate this has
not been printed with quercitron in drab-style. It's a full color chintz.

An arborescent chintz on the right from the Connecticut project. 
Photo from the Quilt Index

Palampore sold at Christies
The gnarly tree is an offshoot of the tree-of-life imagery.

An India Print Bedspread or a real palampore in a decorating suggestion?


Becky's bright block has a chintz with that olive/mustard color palette
AND a fancy ground.

Jo Morton's Bird Chintz is an arborescent chintz
in quercitron colors.

You may have hesitated to buy these mustard yellow reproductions
but now you know why you need them.

From Nancy Gere

And Judie Rothermel

From Collections for a Cause: Community

Petra Prins's Dutch Prints

An upholstery grade arborescent repro

This week you can stitch stars in 
  • quercitron yellow,
  • prints in drab style or 
  • arboresecent chintzes in any shade.
Drab-style stripe in a repro by Becky Brown

What to Do with Your Stack of Stars?
Alternate a Different Star.

Quilt signed ELH; Dated 1839
Collection of the Shelburne Museum

ELH's star has been one of my favorite quilts since I first saw
it in black and white in a Shelburne Museum catalog.

Carol Jones and I made this baby quilt from
the Seneca Falls fabric collection for Moda.

The other star in the pair is #2141c in BlockBase.
Carrie Hall called it Ohio Star in her 1935 book but
this star was pieced into patchwork before there was an Ohio.

Polly Green's interpetation of the 1839 Shelburne quilt

Lori Smith calls it Virginia's Star.
It looks good in shades of quercitron.

Virginia's Quilt by Cupcakes and Daisies

Any Sawtooth Star would coordinate....

Here's Block Base #2146, a variation on the 
Barbara Frietchie Star.

One More Thing About Quercitron

Vintage medallion quilt

Quercitron can be printed with mordants similar to the way madder is printed. Different mordants produce different shades of olive, brown and yellow in that characteristic mustard shade. Mordant printing is extremely useful because the printer applies different mordants (usually metal salts) and then dips the fabric in a single dye bath. It's a relatively inexpensive process and the registration is good as in that scenic bridge print in the quilt above..

Read more about quercitron and drab at this post:

Reproduction star by Becky Brown
If you prefer olive greens to bright, over-dyed green calicoes
you can tell everyone you are focusing on early drab-style prints.


Barb said...

Another fascinating lesson in fabric! Thanks Barbara.
I'm glad there are 3 options - off to dig into the repro collection again :)

Wendy Caton Reed said...

Hmmm... good thing I am going to Cyndi's (Busy Thimble) tomorrow. It will save me digging through my pile! Thanks for another great post.

Lori said...

Very informative!

Cyndi said...

Love this week's topic! Gets the juices flowing to dig in the fabric collection again!! The "Trade Goods" fabric in the first star is one of Favorites (Have a lot of Favorites!)........An excellent line that came out the same time as "Pemberley" from Marcus. Wish we could have more like those!

desertskyquilts said...

That's so interesting and filled with things I never knew about yellow dyes.

Jeanne said...

I used to do lots of natural dyeing, so this drab palette is very familiar :)