Red and White Quilts, Part 2

Red and white quilts are stunning in both their simplicity and complexity. Two simple colors provide exciting contrast, capturing our attention and holding it long enough for us to notice details. The details, or complexity, show that no two red and white quilts are alike. Indeed, the most famous exhibit of red and white quilts, in early 2011, was titled “Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts.” The show in New York City displayed 650 American red and white quilts, no two of them the same.

While that is the most famous, and likely deepest show of these quilts, it is by no means the only one. Since 2011 there have been exhibits mounted by Quilts, Inc. through its International Quilt Festival (IQF,) and at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah in 2015. Local guilds also include exhibits of these glorious quilts. My own guild is showing a selection in our show (yesterday and) today.

Red textiles have a tradition much longer than here in America. In the 1500s, European explorers in Mexico found a small insect called a “cochineal” created a red dye. In Europe the dye was in short supply and high demand until the mid-1800s, when synthetic dyes were invented. Here are two interesting articles about the use of red dyeΒ in textiles and cochineal in particular.

Another popular, natural dye in the 18th and 19th century was called “Turkey red.” This is probably a more familiar term to most of us. Turkey red was made from the root of the rubia plant, and the process originated in India or Turkey. It was considered color-fast, meaning it didn’t fade or readily wash out. You can read more about it in wiki.

According to The Quilter Community, the peak years for using red and white in quilts was 1880-1930. (I’ll have to research more to see if that’s true. Red and white quilts followed on the popularity of red, white, and green quilts of the early 1800s. The greens faded quickly, and lost favor as a color to include, leaving the reds and whites as the surviving characteristics.) You can see examples of antique red and white quilts at Rocky Mountain Quilts, an antique dealer with ever-fascinating photos of quilts for sale. Barbara Brackman, quilt historian, shows some examples here. And there are dozens more examples at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) if you use the search function. Plug in “red and white” under the keyword search to find them.

Here are a few photos from my guild show. There are about a dozen red and white quilts entered, including eight on the altar. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

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28 thoughts on “Red and White Quilts, Part 2

  1. TERRI

    How I wish I could be in Iowa City to see all those quilts in person. I also appreciate the history you’ve provided. Thank you for sharing both.

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  2. tierneycreates

    Enjoyed the photos (wow!) and the history on red and white quilts and red dye. I took a wonderful book out from the library a while ago on red and white quilts – Red and White Quilts: Infinite Variety: Presented by The American Folk Art Museum πŸ™‚

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  3. shoreacres

    I have a beautiful redwork tablecloth, with doves and garlands and who knows what else around the perimeter. Out of curiosity, I went looking and found that redwork embroidery was popular at about the same time as the red and white quilts, and for the same reason: the colorfastness of the threads. Articles said it usually was done on a nice muslin, which mine is. I think it might be older than I’d assumed, and it’s fun to see it in context with your group’s beautiful collection of quilts.

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      1. KerryCan

        Thanks for showing so much faith in my knowledge, Melanie, even though it may not be justified! I do have a nice book, though, that gives a ton of info about redwork embroidery. It’s called Red & White: American Redwork Quilts and Patterns,” by Deborah Harding. Women covered all kinds of household textiles with red embroidery from the late 1800s through about 1910. That could be the era for shoreacres’s tablecloth.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I love that all of those we have on display are so different, and stand out in their own ways. And you know me, I love quilting history, though I can only scratch the surface. It’s always fun to do a little research and find out more. Thank you!

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  4. snarkyquilter

    Thanks for the history and the reason green and white quilts went out of favor. I now recall seeing how the greens fade on old quilts. Glad to see your quilt rightfully placed up front.

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  5. allisonreidnem

    What an eye catching display – brilliant! We visited the American Museum, Bath UK yesterday. They have a collection of quilts dating back to the mid-1800s and quite a few of those were red and white. I’ve edited my photos and will put them in a blog post asap.

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  6. KerryCan

    I think the red and white quilts look stunning! And I love the ways in which your group displayed the quilts in the church, across the pews and all. It’s funny–I am currently working on 3 quilts, in different stages, and all three are predominantly red and white, although one has some greens in it, too. I guess I’m smitten!

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Smitten with good reason. They really are beautiful. And I have tiny temptations to start another, too! But there are so many other projects to work on, that will certainly wait (and maybe a good long while!)

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  7. Pingback: Quilts and more at the American Museum, Bath UK |

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      They really were beautiful, and having the colors and textures all melded together made it even more spectacular. I wish you could have seen it, too. πŸ™‚ Thanks for taking a look here, and for commenting today.

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