The oldest quilt in our collection, by far, is this one.
Known as American blue resist, this fabric is dyed with indigo using a technique in which a resist is applied to the areas to remain white before the cloth is placed in the dye bath. Lighter and darker areas are achieved by using successive dyeings after removing some of the resist.
It’s called “American” blue resist because, although no documentation exists as evidence for the fabric having been printed in North America, it is found exclusively in the US. While its European counterparts do exist, they are clearly distimguishable from the American product – so we must assume that it was either manufactured here or that the entire production was imported to the colonies. Most American blue resist originated apparently in the Hudson River and Connecticut River valleys during the mid-1700’s, and was originally used as home decorating fabric, typically as curtains or bed hangings. Analyzing the sizes and shapes of pieces in our quilt, we can assume that it was pieced from fabric orignally used as bed hangings, even bound with resist printed strips that were used as trim on the hangings. Assuming a reasonable life for the bed set, we can surmise that it was deconstructed and made into this quilt in the early 1800’s.
Through the kindness of Linda Eaton, textile curator at Winterthur we were able to view a number of blue resist items in their large collection – a considerable education on the subject – which further convinced us of the correctness of our suppositions. I don’t know of any other museum or public holding of such an extensive array of blue resist bed hangings and coverings.
Our quilt has a homespun back, and is not in perfect condition, though considering its age, it’s not bad. Sometime long ago it sustained a small hole, perhaps from a mouse? So it has on each side an inset patch of the type done in the 19th century.
More images of the quilt can be seen here. When we bought this at auction, it was completely overlooked; it cost us all of $1.00!