Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Stars in a Time Warp 17: Conversation Prints

Cynthia used a conversation print with her chrome orange
reproduction in February.

Vintage quilt about 1870-1890
The blue shirting pictures a small jingle bell.

We always enjoy coming upon a conversation print while examining an antique quilt. The subject matter and detail give us something to talk about, which must be where these prints get their name. "Conversation prints" or "conversationals" feature figures of recognizable objects other than florals or abstract geometrics. Today manufacturers call them "novelties."

A vintage dog print.

From a French swatchbook by Persoz.
He is showing a roller print for shirts printed in 1846
by the Koechlin Brothers mill of Alsace.

The finely drawn, light-weight cottons shown here were a subcategory of shirting prints.

A terrific small quilt with fussy-cut conversationals, about 1900.

Sporting print, a subcategory of conversationals.

Horseshoes, jockeys and racing images were a common theme.

The printers often referred to the detailed prints as mill-engravings, a reference to the printing technique. In this case, the word "mill" does not mean the textile factory, but rather the old die and mill technology introduced in the early nineteenth century. A mill made of hard metal like steel impressed pattern into a cylinder or roller made of copper.

The mill is harder metal impressing a pattern into the roller, which is softer metal, sort of like this diagram. When the softer metal roller began to wear out the mill could re-impress the pattern on to the copper.
A woman working on a cylinder or roller about 1870.

After 1870, that technology became inexpensive enough that textile factories could print quirky designs like bees or flies, patterns which did not promise to be big sellers.

Horses, however, must have been popular prints.

Vintage top with horse, anchor and horse shoes, about 1880-1900.

Vintage indigo blue anchor print, about 1900.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, at the same time that the mill-engraved conversational shirtings were popular for clothing and quilts, factories also produced conversational prints featuring white figures on Turkey red or indigo blue grounds.

 The dark prints, which were quite popular for children’s clothing, appear in quilts from about 1880 through 1920. They rarely show the detail of the mill engravings, and are primarily sporting prints, another subcategory of conversationals. Anchors and sailing images, horse shoes and racing equipment are common in these red and blue shirtings.


Reproduction star by Becky Brown.
 She's divided the center square
into 4 squares and rotated the bicyclists around.

Happy Hexagons by Wendy Caton Reed.
Each light hexagon features a converation print...

as you can see in this detail.

Terry Thompson did a line of shirtings a few years ago.
Conversationals are another example of "Buy a yard when you see it."

Lisa Bongean's recent Lakeside Gathering

From American Folk and Fabric

From Classic Conversationals by Judie Rothermel

A nice range of conversationals in Ascot

One of Amy's stars in January set with a rooster print.

And another of Becky's with a dog.
Is that the same dog in the 1886 Bloomingdale's catalog?
You could buy a boy's shirt already made.

"American Percale, in a beautiful variety of heads, birds, figures, etc.,
very stylish and striking effects."

What to Do with Your Stack of Star Blocks?
Alternate a HST.
(current quilters' jargon for a square pieced of 2 Half-Square Triangles.)

Vintage quilt from about 1900. 
The taupes and tans may have once been bright reds and blues. This quilt alternating stars and triangles blocks is from the decades when solid color cottons were quite fugitive.

Same idea with more contrast. Cut your triangles for the alternate squares 8-7/8" . Cut into 2 triangles with a diagonal slice.

If you set the stars and alternate blocks on point you can get a different look
as in this quilt from about 1870-1910.

Wish...Upon A Star by Joe Wood for Thimblecreek Quilts

You might want to control shading and color to make an alternate block quilt look like a strip quilt.

One More Thing About Conversation Prints

Another subcategory of conversationals is commemorative prints. These reproductions are based on patriotic variations perhaps printed during the Civil War.

The Union Forever, a reproduction 

It's hard to know if these were printed during the war or commemoratives.

Union, one of my reproductions, out of print.

The 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia inspired many 
souvenir prints

Vintage quilt with Centennial sashing dated 1776-1876

This Washington print is dated 1776 but it's another Centennial design from 1876.

Two similar reproductions

Read more about conversation prints in America's Printed Fabrics, pages 112-117


Cynthia@wabi-sabi-quilts said...

I do LOVE conversationals and I've been waiting for this week! As always, I learn so much from your Wednesday morning posts. Thank you Barbara!

Wendy Caton Reed said...

Oh boy, my favorite (wait, I've said that before). I once bought an entire quilt top (from Julie Silber) because of one little tiny piece of a conversational with a horse on it. Sheesh! Thanks for sharing my "Happy Hexagons" quilt. I had a lot of fun with that one.

Mary said...

I love these postings. Thanks for sharing the many pitures. I have that 'Union' fabric. I know what to use in this week's Star.

Mary said...

I love these postings. Thanks for sharing the many pitures. I have that 'Union' fabric. I know what to use in this week's Star.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I am so happy to now see the conversationals included. I had more then I thought so I have seperated them into their own bundles..time to get busy making my stars again...I just took a little break because my stack was growing a bit too fast.

Taryn said...

Boy, I would love to find that jumping horse reproduction from American Folk and Fabric! I just purchased an antique quilt stencil in the shape of a horse. I think you are right, horses were popular.

Roxanne said...

Have learned so much in this series--thank you. Was the alphabet a conversational print of that time?

Barbara Brackman said...

The definition is pretty loose. I'd classify alphabet prints as conversation prints.

Sally said...

I love Repro Conversationals. Wish there were more. I missed the rabbit on the tortoise (one of Judie's?) and wish I hadn't! Any chance you'll be adding some (lots) of them to the next line???

Wendy, wonderful hexie quilt! I'm making one with most of my lights conversationals--every fabric is different, shooting for queen size.