Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stars in a Time Warp 33: Later Turkey Reds

Reproduction block by Becky Brown

Vintage quilt, about 1910

After 1880, style in red prints changed. We'll give the claret color in the top left square it's own post soon, but this week we'll talk about the clear, slightly blueish-red dyed with the Turkey red process.

Block from about 1900
The shirting print is the clue to the date.

Turkey red plains look the same in 1840 and 1890.
The dyeing process was slightly different.

See a post on early Turkey reds here:

Chemists and dyers experimented with synthetic alizarin and artificial red dyes. Positive results included Turkey red's drop in price. Although it still cost more than other cottons, it was more affordable, encouraging the fashion for two-color quilts with Turkey red plains.

Quilt inscribed 1887

The negatives were the simplification of the prints and the unreliability of the artificial reds.

Quilt with a label inked 1881.
Figures were less detailed and colors
were usually limited to white, black (dark brown)
or yellow.

Americans imported Turkey reds before the Civil War when mills in various European countries specialized in the difficult-to-dye color obtained from madder root. When madder’s coloring agent alizarin was synthesized from coal tar in 1868, the dyeing and printing processes became easier. 

American mills apparently began producing solids and simple prints from synthetic alizarin later in the century. The dyestuff, imported from Germany, required the same complex discharging and mordanting processes to obtain white and yellow figures as natural madder. 

Crooke's dye manual showed the two different chemical processes. 
The top swatch was dyed with natural madder dyes; 
the other with artificial alizarin, which imitated madder's chemistry. 

We can't see any differences, so we really can't rely on Turkey red solid cottons to help us date a quilt. But style changes in the prints are helpful in dating and in reproducing the two different looks.

The block may be mid-century Prussian blue
but the Turkey red setting print is end-of-the century style

Imported Turkey red prints before 1870-80
featured dark brown, blue, green, yellow and white figures.

Quilt with a label inked 1897.
Late-19th-century prints retained the
bright red backgrounds but figures were often just dark brown or black
and/or white

Quilt abut 1900
 One can see that the dark figures are printed with madder and a mordant because the dye is rotting the cotton, as madder figures often do.

Bettina's reproduction star captures the look of simple dark figure
on red.

Sometimes pink was in the figures too.

Another swatch from Crookes's dye manual
shows "Madder Red and Pink" much like
my comforter from the early 20th century.

A few of the simple reds became popular styles.

- Printed plaids
The 1902 Sears & Roebuck catalog was probably talking about these:
"German Red Check and Plaids Prints (5½ ¢)"

Reproduction star by Constant Quilter

Large-scale florals were often called Robe Prints
(like lap robes and bath robes there were bed robes)

Robe prints were fashionable for tied comforter bedcovers.

Another print palette option
was yellow figures on red grounds.

 Red and yellow ditsies

Quilt inscribed 1916
These were staple prints repeated year after year.


Simple red prints surround a floral center in Becky's repro star.

Below a few classics copying the ditsies from about 1880-1920:

Paula Barnes, Landon Creek

Two from Nancy Gere, Fairmont Park

Erin Turner, Civil War Times

What to Do With Your Stack of Star Blocks?
Make an American Flag

Vintage quilt about 1900
There was a fashion for patriotic quilts in the 1890-1920 era when a couple of wars and Civil War remembrances encouraged a show of the national colors. 

I drew the quilt above in EQ7

To make a flag quilt finishing to 96" wide by 72"
you'll need 48 of your 6" finished stars

For the red and white strips cut strips 6-1/2" wide.
Cut 3 red and 3 white strips 48-1/2".
Cut 3 red and 3 white strips 96-1/2".

One More Thing about Turkey Red

One would hope that this box contained what was
advertised: Red embroidery thread that did not fade.

Quilt dated 1905

Turkey red was more expensive than other cottons.

The 1902 Sears & Roebuck catalog had a page of “Bargains in Staple Prints,” offering prints and solids beginning at 5 cents a yard. The most expensive at 10 cents was "Extra Quality Turkey Red Print, solid color. This is absolutely fast oil boiled color." One could buy cheaper Turkey Red prints for 5 cents, "guaranteed color; comes with either white or black printings in new and pretty patterns."

Montgomery Ward's advertised similar prices in 1895.

Before federal regulations, advertisers could say anything they pleased. Let the buyer beware.
Manufacturers lied about Turkey red because they could charge more for an inexpensive dye.

Turkey red is a process not a chemical. The package above probably contained Congo red,
a synthetic red dye that looked good for a while.

A flag quilt:
Turkey red at the top;
Congo red at the bottom.

We see many instances of Congo red fabrics 
fading to tan or tangerine.

We still have problems with bleeding reds but reds rarely fade to tan anymore.


Barb said...

can never have enough reds. I'm still hoping for mourning prints. This has been great fun and I've learned so much.
Thanks for all the wonderful posts.

Barbara Brackman said...

Mourning prints soon

The Calico Cat said...

When trying to create an authentic look, should a modern quilter try to include a "faded congo red" (& other fugitive colors) or stick to trying to make the quilt that our ancestors wanted to make - full color.

Cynthia@wabi-sabi-quilts said...

Every quilt needs a little red - or a lot. Thanks for another wonderful educational post!

Barbara Brackman said...

Calico Cat---that's up to you.

sunporchquilts said...

and WHY oh why haven't they invented dyes that don't bleed???