Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ann Knox's Linsey Quilt

Quilt pieced of homespun clothing by 
Ann Sloan Lowrie Knox

The North Carolina Museum of History has in its collection a quilt made of  fabrics believed to be home dyed and home woven.

These plaids, stripes and solid fabrics, usually of wool yarns 
crossed with cotton, were called linseys.

According to family tradition, the quilt is made of pieces of shirts worn by boys in the Lowrie/Knox family, several of whom died in the Confederate Army. The cloth, according to the family story, was homespun and dyed with walnuts and chinaberries.

On the reverse: a post-War plaid, perhaps factory woven.

Ann Sloan, born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in 1808, married twice. With her first husband Robert B. Lowrie she had two sons Robert and Samuel J. Lowrie. After his death she married widower Samuel Buie Knox (1798-1875) in 1836.

With Samuel she had nine more children between 1837 and 1849---4 girls and 5 boys.  The family lived in the Steele Creek community, now a part of Charlotte. Of Ann's seven sons, six joined Confederate units.

Many of Ann's family are buried at the 
Steele Creek Presbyterian Church

Sons James, John and Joseph who died in 1864 and 1865 are remembered on a single gravestone.
Joseph died at 18 at Petersburg, Virginia, where he is buried. John, 24 years old, died a few weeks earlier and is buried in Staunton, Virginia. James, 38 years old, died at home in the last days of the Civil War from his wounds.

Attorney Samuel J. joined the Confederate Navy (the county history informs us he was too heavy for the cavalry). He survived the War, although he died in 1870 at the age of forty.

Steele Creek was an early Scots-Irish community.
The cemetery is known for its 18th-century headstones.

Robert Lowrie was paroled at Appomattox Court House when the war ended. He died four years later at 37. William Harrison Knox survived the war, but suffered from his wounds until his death in 1919. The only boy who did not fight was the youngest Charles Pettus Knox, about 12 when the war began. Ann Knox died in 1884, survived by just two of her sons.

 Her quilt is similar to other post-War quilts of mixed wool/cotton/linen fabrics, often made to save cloth that held memories of the War. The four-patch with its butternut yellow border might have been made any time between the last days of the Civil War and Ann's death two decades later. Such quilts are hard to date because the fabrics are difficult to date.

See more about the quilt here:
[This link isn't working. We may have overwhelmed it. Try this one:

Read a post I wrote a few months ago about similar linsey quilts here:

The Knox Family Papers are in the J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Click here to read a summary:

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.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bed-quilt Blank: A Bounder in Butternut

Here's a story that was published several times around 1900 about quilts and blankets being stolen during the Civil War,

In his 1899 book Confederate Military History, Clement Anselm Evans wrote:

"A citizen of Fayetteville, Ark., soon after the war, pointed out to a visitor on the public square, a man seated in a wagon drawn by a horse and a mule, accompanied by a woman who delivered the produce he had for sale. The man wore a brown jeans homespun coat, and the woman a homemade worsted skirt.
A brown jeans homespun coat might be any shade of brown
but probably a twill weave. The brown was often obtained
with white walnut dyes, called butternut.

 "You see those people?" he asked of the visitor. "I used to think they were the salt of the earth; and their homemade woolens had a sanctity in my eyes as true emblems of honesty and innocence.

You can't judge a book by its cover,
or an honest family by its homespun.

"But during the war that man manifested his true nature, and but for the general amnesty, could be indicted for a dozen murders, for robbery, arson and larceny. He used to ride through the country and strip the beds of the poor women in these hills, until he piled quilts in his lap so high he could not see his horses' ears. They say the women shot at him, but the quilts proved a protection against their bullets. He is known as 'Bed-quilt Blank.' ''

Well it's too bad we don't know old Bed-quilt's real last name. What a scoundrel.

Read the book here at Google Books:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Stars in a Time Warp 32: Faded Synthetic Dyes

Reproduction star with a faded green by Becky Brown

We're moving forward in time to the end of the 19th century. One important change in the last quarter was dyers' experiments with synthetic dyes. 

Star quilt from about 1880 to 1920, when
green dyes were very unreliable.

After 1870 and into the 20th century we see new colors dyed with new synthetic chemicals. The claret red print in the center of the stars above was one success.

But some of the new dyes were failures. The star points here have
faded to what dyers called a dun color---no color.

What hue were these stars when the quilt came out of the frame?

Close examination sometimes reveals color in the seams
where the light didn't hit the fabric. These may have been
red and yellow stars.
Natural chrome orange was valued because it didn't easily fade.

Quilt date-inscribed 1874
There are remnants of blue in the star points. This
was perhaps once a red, white and blue quilt. Turkey red
cost more but was worth the price.

A green star with the center faded to a grayed-blue.

Detail from a tree block in a quilt date-inscribed 1904. 
The tan triangles were probably once a dark green.

You don't see many bright green tree blocks from 1880-1920 
when the pattern was so popular.
 This one's a block never used so it
probably hasn't seen much light or washing.

What color was that faded green?

Probably a rich, dark green with a slight blue cast as in the border here.
You can see the green fading where the light has hit
it on a fold.

Many solid colors were fugitive, fading to khaki with
washing or light.

Star quilt top from 1890-1920
The peachy reds were probably once a bright red.
A new synthetic red called Congo red often faded to this shade.

Reproduction Fabrics

Fugitive dyes presents the reproduction quiltmaker with a philosophical question. When interpreting the end-of-the-19th-century look, should one copy faded solids?

Both red and blue here have faded.
Sometimes the faded color is quite attractive to our taste.
But other dye disasters are not such happy accidents

You see a lot of faded greens in end-of-the-century
Pennsylvania quilts.

You have a range of greens to work with today, some intense;
others approximate the old fugitive greens.

At the top of the image above some Moda Bella Solids with intense greens;
below that green line I drew: taupes and khakis.

Becky faded her own green. She started with the Kelly green in the frame
and then she...

"abused it to create The Look.

First I gave it a little swim in a jar of mild bleach water (washed and dried).
Next I gave it a soak in a solution of Hydrogen Peroxide and water (washed and dried).
And then I boiled 6 black walnuts in a pan of water (yucky) and tossed in the fabric.
 That pretty much took care of changing the original green fabric to something close to a dun color. Of course, I could have done it all with photoshop, but this was much more fun."
Solids weren't the only textiles that faded.
Green calicoes at the time were also fugitive, as was thread.

Quilt dated 1897 in an embroidery thread that faded to pale gray.

What to Do With Your Stack of Stars?
Sash them with Flying Geese

Quilt from the 1880s, attributed to Mechanics Falls, Maine,
by dealers Woodard & Greenstein.

The stars are 3 inches!

Stars and geese are pieced of several late-19th- century print styles including cretonnes, bronzey browns and red robe prints, which we will be discussing in the following weeks.
If one were making this quilt with our 6" stars each of those geese in the sash would finish to 1-1/2" x 3".  The cornerstones would be cut 3-1/2"

Rhubarb Crisp by Jo Morton
Jo Morton drew a pattern for an excellent copy (fewer stars, however)

Maureen at Pursuit of Quilts brightened up Jo's pattern
by using madder oranges for those cornerstones
She planned to use one of my red paisleys on the reverse.

Apparently, I've enticed Mareen into making more star blocks
(That is a good thing.)

One More Thing About Fading & Bleeding Cottons

Fading dyes created a whole new market for home dyes.

1922 ad for Diamond Dyes,
"Any woman can dye or tint her old worn, faded things new."

Notice the green and reds on her line.

It wasn't only washing that faded the colors. Light was an enemy. And some of those unstable solids just faded away with time, closed up in the blanket chest.

Early red artificial dyes also bled (they still do). 
The binding on this quilt is bleeding into the blocks.
The green leaves in the corners have faded.

Women's magazines were full of helpful hints as to how to launder the new cottons:
"Wonders Can be Accomplished With Starch and Gasoline"
Mostly bad advice.
Do not try this at home.

More on faded greens here: