Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hexagon-Mosaic Quilt

I purchased this quilt recently at an antique show in Phoenix.

I loved the design, the fabric and the fact that the ends were cut out for a poster bed. I immediately dated it to c. 1900 because of the green “path” fabric which I know as chambray. I have always heard if you see chambray in any quilt it cannot be dated before 1900-1910. Is this true? I don’t claim to be an antique quilt expert by any definition.
Two fellow antique quilt collectors recently saw it and started to question the date for chambray, n. a fine lightweight fabric woven with white threads across a colored warp. Weaving is a textile production method which involves interlacing a set of longer threads (called the warp) with a set of crossing threads (called the weft). This is done on a frame or machine known as a loom. Chambray seems to be such a simple fabric weave concept, makes sense to me that it was possible long before 1900-1910.
Maybe what I am calling chambray was really called something else earlier. Gingham? Calico? Muslin? I do know the meaning of these terms have changed over the centuries.
Ad from my Montgomery Ward, Fall & Winter 1936-1937 catalog

While looking around the web trying to find more on chambray, I read a lot about denim. Seems like a close relationship to chambray. At least in 1936 chambray was sometimes more than two colors, I did not know that. I thought it was just white and one other color.

Ad from my Montgomery Ward, Fall & Winter 1936-1937 catalog

Here are a lot of close ups of the other fabric in the quilt. These are definitely early than 1900. The hexagons are finely hand sew. Paper pieced? That’s hard to tell. The hexes are about 2 ½ inches. Looks like it was all done by the same person. It has a very smooth feel on all the fabric, unwashed. The batting feels like wool, and the binding is machine sewn.

I guess I should show you the back of the quilt. This pink is one of my favorites. My master bedroom is done all in double pinks and browns.

So what do you think? Any thoughts on the quilt? What about the date? It sure would be nice if these quilts could talk!


  1. That's the big question. If chambray is only after 1900/1910 then yes for sure. But the fabric looks so planned so put together, more than a scrap quilt. If it was all done at one time which the hand sewing indicates, what time.

  2. What a marvelous find. I share your love of antique and vintage textiles, and this quilt has such beautiful fabrics in it. I love the colors the quiltmaker chose. I also have some antique quilts and wish they could talk!

  3. Xenia Cord posted this on the QHL. Textiles in America sounds like a book I need.------

    When in doubt, turn to Florence Montgomery, in this instance her Textiles in America 1650-1870. It is primarily a dictionary of
    textiles, with information about their early appearance. For chambray, p. 195, she notes:

    CHAMBRAY - A type of gingham, plain in color and weave, often having a colored warp and white filling. It may be "made from any color as you may wish, in the warp, and also in the filling, only have them differ from each other" (Bronson, p. 21). In 1812 "11 cases of cotton goods, consisting of chambrays, stripes, checks, Plaids, Shirting and bedticks" were offered for sale by Ralph
    Smith, Jr., of Rhode Island (Federal Gazette and Baltimore Daily Advertiser, February 13, 1812).

    Thin silk and cotton "Chamberry muslins" in brown and white, green and purple, and black are dated 1807 and 1808 in the Johnson album.

    Xenia Cord

  4. I love everything about this quilt -- the pattern, the colors, the amazing stitching, and the gorgeous prints (thanks for the wonderful close-ups).

    I am no expert on dating fabric, but I think I can tell you one thing about this quilt -- I'm pretty sure it was paper pieced. The sharpness of the hexagon points was the first thing that struck me. Then, in your close-up photos, I could see the thread in the seams is at a slight angle, which would indicate a whip stitch, as opposed to a running stitch where the thread would be perpendicular to the seam.

    No matter how old it is, or how it was stitched, it's a perfectly wonderful quilt.

  5. Martha that is such an interesting point. Thanks for your input. And isn't this a lot like your GFG Star Quilt-A-Long? What size are your hexagons?
    If I didn't have so many other UFO's I would consider this project.

  6. Dating a quilt is a complex job even when looking at it in person. There are many factors to consider and it's wise to go slowly and take them all into account. See the last pages of Clues in the Calico for "Building a Case" a worksheet to help you sleuth out everything and decide if it's a weak or a strong clue. Of course, for most quilts we end up making our best guess ---even though we feel educated - without terrific provenance there are so many possibilities that we can't even think of them all. Two things I wanted to comment on 1. the term 'paper piecing' is often confused with what we call paper piecing today. For clarification I would describe it as "English paper foundation piecing". Also, I see the brown is deteriorating - can you carefully peek at the batting in any of those areas.? You can do a burn test for wool if you get a small bit of fiber out with a long tweezer (did you get one with your serger?). You may be able to tell just looking at it but the burn test is proof. It's a great quilt!

  7. Chambray, as Xenia notes, is an old weave. The prints look very 1840s or earlier. It's a pretty spectacular find.

  8. I saw this quilt up close and it's a stunning piece. Upon close examination, I don't think there's much doubt that it was constructed via the English paper foundation piecing method (thank you, Jean C.). The whip stitches are visible throughout and, in the lighter fabrics, it is possible to see the wide seam allowance that sometimes occurs with that method. Plus the shape of the hexagons are very sharp. I believe the binding is a later replacement as it is machine applied and very much a cinnamon pink which tends to be later in the century. Replacement bindings are not at all uncommon on old quilts.

    As Jean notes, there are several areas where the brown fabric is deteriorating. As a quilt restorer I've seen that happen in many quilts of this era. Not all browns, but many. Otherwise the quilt is crisp and lovely with alot of "selective cutting". It's a gem.

  9. The palm frond-looking design in the brown close-up could inspire a Princess Feather pattern!

  10. So glad I ran across your blog.I love the history you have documented.