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 dye 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.