Monday, November 5, 2012

Quilts of the Early 20th Century - AQSG Study Center

Virginia Gunn, acknowledged expert of fabrics and trends of the time period between 1900 -1929, led the study center at the AQSG seminar in Lincoln, NE, in early October.
I have  loved, collected and studied quilts from this period without really realizing what I was doing (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!)
I was, and still am, drawn to them.

We focused on pieced quilts and the fabrics most often seen in them.We are reminded that styles always overlap but subtle changes occur between the quilts made closer to 1900 and those in the latter part of the period as the 30's are ushered in. It's a brief bridge from Victorian/dark/fussy to the clear light pastels of the Depression era.

General trends in fabrics (and thus the quilts) in no particular order:

  • Lighter in overall tone 
  • Stripes, plaids, checks and chambrays.
  • Dots, cotton sateen
  • Indigo and cadet blue, claret (burgundy), shirtings - a 'red/white/blue' feel
  • Mourning prints, neons (brights on black ground)
  • Fewer prints  - those that were available were quite simple - often just white with one color.
  • Simple designs in keeping with the Arts and Crafts movement which stressed function and simplicity. 
  • The Art Deco influence can be seen in prints and quilt designs starting in the 1920's. These 'modern' designs reflected the machine age. (Read more about the Art Deco aesthetic here.)

The fabrics used for garments naturally made their way into many quilts of the time. By the 1920's bright, fast (called tubfast) colors are available.

Mail order catalogs are a good way to see what fabric was available to the home sewer across the period.
This is a scan of a page from my 1929-1930 Montgomery Wards catalog.You see chambray, gingham and romper cloth.
I always thought gingham meant checks but there is 'plain' gingham and plaid gingham! It turns out that gingham actually means 'yarn died'. That is, the fiber was dyed BEFORE being woven as opposed to being woven and then vat dyed or printed.

I also thought that chambray was always a solid looking cloth woven with a color in the warp and white in the weft....often blue, tan, grey, green. But this ad shows striped chambray as well as solid.

This catalog being from the end of the period, we see prints beginning to make a comeback and taking us into the 1930's where prints once again take over.

Romper cloth was a sturdy woven cloth designed for wash and wear garments for children.

I found this item at an estate sale years ago. I was interested in the fabric - a woven gingham check. I thought I could cut it up and use to make quilts. (Checks today seem to be mostly printed or cotton poly blends) But I discovered I had a home-sewn romper. The loose construction allowed freedom of movement while at play. Thought to be the first casual clothes for children, they were quite a contrast from the restrictive clothing of the Victorian era.

Annual photos of school children often include a sign in front of the children with the name of the teacher and the year. Studying the clothing worn by the children shows a preponderance of the same fabrics available from Sears or Montgomery Wards.

A few examples from my collection:

Red/White/Blue combinations - the patriotic feel

Simple piecework
Lots of squares and rectangles, nine patches,

Woven plaids, checks, stripes

Wool suiting samples - 'Bricks'

and my most recent addition - purchased last Saturday from a member of our study group.

For more details about the fabrics of this time period, read Virginia Gunn's full research paper in Uncoverings 2007,  "The Gingham Dog or the Calico Cat; Grassroots Quilts of the Early 20th Century".

Do you have quilts from this period in your collection?


  1. Very interesting. I don't really have a "collection". But the one vintage quilt I have purchased (as opposed to tops and blocks) is a log cabin that seems to be from around this time period, based on the fabrics. It is quilted in the Baptist Fan design.

  2. I love the fabrics from this era and I seem to be drawn to them more than others (I go in spells but always come back to the red/blue/gray)....your latest top is a real beauty!!

  3. I love the fabrics from that time period....and I seem to always be drawn to those colors , and buy them....your newest top is a real treasure....beautiful!!

  4. Yes, I have quilts from this era ;-)
    Thanks for showing yours - always great to see them.
    Sorry I couldn't attend Saturday but I was thinking of you.

  5. Just checking to see if this comment will post. I think I figured it out now. Great looking quilts.


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