Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Stars in a Time Warp 38: Black, Gray and Asian-Style Design

Reproduction star by Bettina Havig

Vintage star block.
Black on white prints are
an excellent clue to a post-1890 date.

Black cotton prints were not available before 1890 or so.

Before that date black dyes were too unreliable. 
They faded or destroyed the cotton fibers.

What a novelty true blacks must have been at the
end of the 19th century.

Grays in the blocks and setting strips in a quilt date-inscribed 1897.
This had to be a hot look in 1897.

Another hot look was Asian-influenced prints characterized by figures such as carnations and grasses, images one might see in Japanese design. Sets were tossed and figures were far apart, giving a distinctive airiness to prints of the 1880-1910 years.

The figures were spaced so far apart in this black ground print that
they hardly made it into the patchwork.

Tillie McCoy's name is in the house quilt above, dated 1897.
That wheat or grass print was one of the novel
fashions of the time. Indigos were important for an Asian look.

Grasses in indigo and browns.
Two graceful prints cut a little too small to show off their best features.
We often just get a glimpse of these Japanese-inspired prints in patchwork.

Eleanor & Franklin Roosevelt, about 1908.
Notice the wallpaper--- birds in grasses---
very Japanese-inspired.

Calico ditsies and Asian-inspired design in a vintage block.

Becky found a great Asian-style print for this repro star.

Detail of a charm quilt top with several tossed, widely spaced figures along the top row.
The blue-gray polka dot fabric has a lace border print. (See the last post.)

The unknown maker picked prints in novel styles
and colors, probably in the 1880s

Another detail showing two colorways of one of these widely spaced designs.
The unusual figure is rings of beads, another minor fad in the 1880s and '90s.

And then there were prints that were just strange.


Here's a repro block Shawn stitched when we were doing California Golds.
These black and gray reproductions seem plentiful right now---
Good time to buy a bunch of fat quarters and make a box that
says BLACKS 1890-1920

Vintage Shirting and Dress Prints by Barbara J. Eikmeier

Several excellent blacks among the shirtings, blues and claret-colored reds.

Reproduction star by Bettina Havig

Kathy Schmitz has several in her current Sturbridge line.

Betsy Chutchian's Eliza's Indigo, scheduled for October delivery,
includes a nice variety from black through gray to white. 

Judie Rothermel periodically does a collection from the 1890-1920 period.

Mourning Grays by Carrie Quinn
mixes lovely purples with black and gray prints.

 Asian-influenced prints are more difficult to find.

One of my favorite lines was called
Leaving the Century. which Terry Thompson and I did for 
Moda in 1999. 

Our theme: Asian-style prints
imitating fabrics from 1899.

The background in Becky's repro star is from that line.

Roseanne Smith, Leaving the Century, 1999-2015
Roseanne just got her quilt back from quilter Lori Kukuk.
Lots of blacks and Japanese-style florals in that collection.

Three repros from Nancy Gere.

What to Do With Your Stack of Stars?
Sash them with Cornerstones.

Quilt from the last quarter of the 19th century
Stella Rubin's Shop.

This seems like a go-to set for us today.
Set blocks on the straight with sashing separating them.
At the intersections put a contrasting cornerstone square.

The cornerstone is almost as large as the center square here.

Maggie Potter's design for the Lands End collection:
a contemporary quilt with a similar set.

Vintage quilt, about 1900
But setting blocks in a straight grid parallel to the edges
was not the obvious choice before 1880 or so.

This antique is set with a claret-red polka dot.

An Amish quilt (?) with the cornerstones as large as the star's center square

You don't see much of this set until after 1870.

 Amish quilt of solid colors,
probably mid-20th century

Quilt dated 1864.
Earlier quilters were more likely to use a diagonal set.

If you are looking for a set typical of the 1880-1920 period consider a horizontal/vertical grid of sashing (wide or narrow) with contrasting squares in the corners.

Linsey quilt (coarse wool/cotton fabrics)

Linsey quilts are hard to date as the fabrics could have
been woven in 1810 or 1890---at home or in a factory.
In this case the sashing and cornerstones are almost as large as the block.

End of the 19th century. 
Proportions: sash as wide as the star's center

One More Thing About Black Cottons

Rotten black in a 1930s quilt

Black dyes were notorious for their unreliability. Even after discoveries of analine dyes that inexpensively colored cotton a good black, serious problems remained.

Some blacks damaged the fabric so much that it shredded.
One culprit was (and is) sulfur black.

But there were other unreliable chemical mixtures. Crookes in his 1874 dye manual shows a scrap of that wiggle stripe dyed with "Lucas black [which] finds no favor either with dealers or consumers." He tells us it has "bad properties" but doesn't say what those failures are. Fading or rotting are the likely problems.

With rotting being most likely.

Read more about black dyes here:

And about current problems with sulfur black at this blog post:


Sandy said...

Fascinating, as usual! I'm way behind on my stars ~

Sally said...

I have some lovely grey/black fabrics from your Civil War Jubilee! Love them (and they go so well with conversationals......)