Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tell Me About Your Quilt: What Did We Use Before Quilts?

Daniel King Woven Coverlet, 1850

Coverlets Before Quilts

It is interesting how many of us presume that quilts have been the predominate bedding for centuries in America. Do include me when I started this research. But that isn't the truth, and it's time we know the whole story.

When I was asked to document this woven coverlet owned by a local family, I composed very basic timelines of world history and textile history for myself. I needed a place to mentally hang dates and ideas in relation to each other. I wanted to know where coverlets fit into the history of quilting, and specifically in Tuscarawas, Coshocton, Wayne and Holmes Co., Ohio. What I found surprised me. Quilts were not nearly as old (around here) as I thought, and coverlets were one of the more commonly used items for bedding before quilts became commonplace.

This is a very important component in the "Tell Me About Your Quilt" series. It helps to answer questions such as, "If this is such a strong area today for quilting, why aren't the earliest quilts found here?" And, "How many quilts made before 1900 would I expect to find still here today?" "How many were there?"

I hope you enjoy this exploration into the history of German sectarian quilters as much as I do.

A Bit of a History Lesson 

 Rough Outline of Significant Dates 
(with special meaning to me)

1516- Fine quilted articles available from India included bed quilts, testers, and clothing. Imported into Europe by traders. 
(People & events in this century, Luther translates the Bible into German, King Henry VIII, Copernicus and Galileo, Shakespeare)

1600-Dec. 31, East India Company established under Queen Elizabeth I. Among their imports were cotton and silk.

1607-1614- Jamestown, Virginia settlement. Settlement failed.

1624- West East India Company sponsors settlement in area of modern day Manhattan, NY.

1609- India continues to produce chintzes, or hand painted fabrics. Articles most commonly sought by well to do were palampores or padded coverlets (quilts).

1637- Early reference to quilts in America. Three quilts mentioned in Annapolis Hall of Records.

1600's: Commonly used bedding was made mainly of wool, and at times, linen. Items were heavy and knotted. Bedding was necessary to bring along on ships when immigrating to America. A quilt was rare and unusual.

As Immigration to America Began: Women immigrated with fine skills in needlework, but also the more basic knowledge of spinning and weaving. Weaving was crucial to turn fiber into cloth. Home weavers could produce coarse cloth (homespun) for everyday needs depending on the raw fiber available.

1700's: Quilting was still mainly limited to use in padded articles of clothing for warmth: petticoats, jackets, hats. (These reminded me of the type of quilted, padded clothing I had seen in museums worn under armor.)

1727- Amish and Mennonites immigrated to Pennsylvania 

1772- October, Gnadenhutten was settled as part of the Ohio Territory. Settlers were Moravians, one of the German sectarian groups. (This is where I now live.)

1782- Gnadenhutten Massacre

1809- Amish and Mennonites immigrated and migrated to Holmes County, Ohio. Two more groups of German sectarians.

1817-1898- Zoar, (Tuscarawas County) Ohio settled. Society of Separatists of  Zoar were also a German sectarian group. There was a woolen mill there.

1870- First dated Amish quilt from Holmes Co. by Sarah Miller (Zook). 

It is believed those of German culture had a preference for woven coverlets for bedding before 1860. (Amish in Eastern Ohio, Kauffman & Beachy, German Culture Museum) Ohio was second only to Pennsylvania in number of weavers. Sheep were farmed for meat and wool, and plentiful water power was available in local creeks. Carding and fulling were two steps in production requiring vast amounts of time, and were made easier by machinery in mills powered by a water wheel. Woven coverlet production was strong here for many decades. This included the post Civil War era when other areas had declined. Quilts adopted as the preferred bed covering came decades later to this area. We must note though, when the quilt was finally embraced, it dominated in nearly one generation. 

Signed & Dated:

Daniel King
Tuscarawas Co., Ohio

Though this 74" x 84.5" wool coverlet was both signed and dated, there was still a lot of information to discover about the maker.

Daniel King was born 1827 in Pennsylvania, where he probably learned how to weave. He wove in Tuscarawas Co. about 1848, and Stark Co. about 1854. He also lived in Wayne Co. He enlisted in the Union Army in 1864, and later died in 1887 or 1888. This early information was available from the Census in that time.

I found that county boundary lines have not always been firm, and that might lead to some confusion when physically placing a weaver or coverlet's place of origin. King coverlets were marked in a corner block with his name, location, and dates, and exist from 1848-1859. 

The reverse image is seen from the back on a woven coverlet.

This hand-woven coverlet has representational motifs, and was woven in two pieces. You can see the join line in the right of the picture. This Jacquard-woven coverlet is composed of 3 colors on a neutral background. It is interesting to note that Amish preferred coverlets composed of geometrical motifs, and avoid representational motifs (as applique) in their quilting still today.

The technology for this type of weaving was brought to America around 1825, and had made its way to Ohio around 1840. The design was executed with a tall loom, and a series of punch cards. Most of this type of weaving ended after the Civil War, but was continued longer in this part of Ohio.

Seen from behind, we notice some deterioration in the wool mainly in fold lines.

Tied fringe edges compose 3 sides. The bottom fringe is white, and sides are red, navy, and green. The top is bound with a cotton print fabric in near perfect condition, and interesting in its own right.

History of Ownership

A 3rd generation family member owns this piece. She can trace it back to her grandmother born 1891 in Becks Mills, Ohio, where she lived her entire life. The owner was told her grandmother kept it in a trunk, and likely never used it. 


The American Quilt, A History of Cloth and Comfort 1750-1950, Roderick Kiracofe and Mary E. Johnson, 1993

Germanic Folk Culture in Eastern Ohio, Kauffman & Clark, 1986, German Culture Museum

Amish in Eastern Ohio, Kauffman & Beachy, 1990, German Culture Museum

Quilts in Community: Ohio's Traditions, Clark, Knepper & Ronsheim, 1991


Come on, Doxie girls.
Let's go sew.


Quilting Babcia said...

The history of American woven coverlets as predecessors to our quilting history is very interesting. There are numerous instances of woven coverlets found in New York State, some later ones are jacquard woven, such as your example here. These were typically woven by professional weavers, as opposed to simpler overshot coverlets of geometric design that were typically woven by home weavers on a 4-harness or 8-harness loom. Do you suppose the Amish settlers in your area preferred the geometric overshot coverlets over the fancy jacquard-woven ones partly because the overshot ones were typically able to be produced at home? So many questions for further research! I love reading this series.

Danice G said...

So interesting. I love history, esp. about quilts/bedding. Thank you for this info.

Janice Holton said...

Oh boy, that is so fascinating! I read every single word. I love historical data. On another subject, the word Coshocton particularly caught my interest because I recently discovered some of my ancestors lived in that area. All that research of mine is packed away somewhere so I can't remember who it was but it's someone related to my great grandfather who has been a mystery I've been working on solving. How exciting to know someone who lives in that area! When I am able to locate my info, I would love to talk to you more!

Linda Swanekamp said...

About an hour away is a coverlet museum. I have never visited it, but now I want to. A woman in my Sunday School class gave me an antique quilt top she wants me to quilt. It is hand sewn. There are a few little holes. It is stunning, tree of life. She found it a trunk of her recently deceased mother and has no idea who in the family made it. I marveled at the stitching and I am a sucker for indigo fabric.

Kate said...

Thanks for the fascinating history lesson.

KaHolly said...

This is quite interesting. I have always been a strong admirer of woven blankets but never realized their history. What fun you must have researching your information. It’s like unraveling a mystery. I still admire woven goods and am in awe of some of the beautiful work I’ve been seeing lately.

Angie in SoCal said...

In Puerto Rico, even coverlets were hot. I've not found any textiles yet that they used on beds. Maybe like the tifaifais. Interesting post, Julie.

Anja @ Anja Quilts said...

Thanks for sharing. Very interesting.

PaulaB quilts said...

I grew up in Rhode Island and can't recall ever seeing a quilt. I did see coverlets and could tell the difference between the handwoven geometric and the machined jacquard. My father was superintendent of a dye house, dying wool in the top stage, before spinning. I found practice books of his from when he studied weaving methods at the RI School of Design, a very famous art school. But New England did not seem to have Quilts or quilters. My first antique quilt was purchased in Palo Alto, CA, and that led to my collecting and studying antique Quilts. It was 20 years before I made my first quilt and saw a quilt show

Rebecca Grace said...

Very interesting, Julie! Thanks for sharing your research with us. :-)