March 12, 2013

October 16, 2008 Still more white

Filed under: General,◦Country Living,◦Vintage — sharon @ 6:15 pm

We’ve featured both our trapunto dresser covers and our trapunto quilt here, but there are still more examples of delicious white on white. Not the least of these is one we just bought last week, another dresser cover.
chenille dresser cover
But this one is not stuffed work; rather it’s embroidered in a technique that includes satin stitch and a fuzzy, raised chenille work. We believe it’s all cotton, both the backing fabric and the embroidered parts, smooth and fuzzy.

The motifs on this piece are very similar to the ones on the stuffed work or trapunto pieces I’ve described before; a central basket of fruit, in this case flanked by oak leaves and acorns on the left and a grapevine on the right. Though I haven’t yet researched this piece, I believe it to date to around the same time as the others as well, most likely pre- civil war.
chenille dresser cover
chenille dresser cover
The close-up above shows the various uses of embroidery to represent the fruits, leaves and basket. Below is a view from the back, showing more of the details of the fine embroidery work.
chenille dresser cover
Since I’ve not seen a dressing table cover like this before, I’m wondering if this one is even rarer than the stuffed work covers? Of course I’ll follow this up with any more information I may find.

October 8, 2008 Fab finds

Filed under: General,◦Vintage — sharon @ 6:13 pm

I promised I’d write about some of what I’d found at our fall show, so here’s one thing.
Marghab shell tc

I came to one seller’s stand and she had a box still full of miscellaneous linens that she had not unpacked. She allowed me to look through it, and though it was filled mostly with non-descript dresser scarves and towels, near the bottom I came across some lovely blue linens. Indeed, there was a blue organdy Madeira tablecloth and eight matching linen napkins.

As I unearthed them, I realized that the quality of the embroidery and cutwork was truly outstanding. And of course I purchased them immediately, as the seller didn’t seem to realize that they were any more remarkable than the other items in the box.
Marghab shell tc
Marghab shell tc
And I’ve learned over the years to recognize that such high quality usually came from only one maker, the Marghab shops of Vera Way Marghab. I’ve been meaning to get a copy of Cline’s Perfection, Never Less, the definitive book about Marghab, but haven’t yet done so. But when I got to my computer I checked with the website of the South Dakota Art Museum, whose definitive Marghab linens collection is unrivaled. Sure enough, my 40 inch Margandie tablecloth and 8 linen napkins were Marghab’s Shell pattern in a lovely shade of blue.

As usual, I have no need for these lovely items, nor any way to display them – so they’ll be offered for sale, and be truly appreciated by some new owner.

More from the show later, including a Colorado souvenir tablecloth… and of course I found some feedsacks to help supply the constant demand.

October 5, 2008 A Berks County applique quilt

Filed under: General,◦Antique quilts,◦Country Living,◦Vintage — sharon @ 5:57 pm

We’ve been trying for some time to gather more information about an unusual applique quilt pattern we’ve found in this area – and only in this area. Oddly, though the pattern is uncommon, we’ve found a relatively large number of them in several variations.

This particular quilt is composed usually of two different but related applique blocks. Related in that they both feature the French fleur-de-lis as part of the design, one block with four and the other with eight around the central flower. The block with four fleurs-de-lis augments each with a daisy and a tulip, while the one with eight includes ovals of reverse applique within the “snowflake” design.

applique quilt
applique quilt
applique quilt

There are a number of more common applique quilt patterns, the typical Rose of Sharon and its variations along with Prince’s Feather, Pomegranate, and Carolina Lily – most of these found all over the northeast and often beyond. But though we’ve handled hundreds of quilts and seen many more, the only ones that we’ve seen with this pattern have been from right here, from estates either in Northern Berks or Northwestern Lehigh County, PA; adjoining areas of Pennsylvania “Dutch” farm country.

One example was featured in a Berks County historical society quilt show, and is shown on the cover of the magazine featuring that show.
applique quilt

We know the owner of that quilt, and it is the only one of the group whose maker and date are known. It was made in Virginville, Berks Co. PA in 1900. Obviously, there are variations on the theme, and this one features a center block different from the other two.

Other variations are, of course, the color of the background fabric, the border treatment, size, and other fabric variations. The 1900 date seems to us to be a little later than we might expect; indeed we believe most of the others we’ve seen probably date just a little earlier, but of course could have been made in 1900 or later from earlier fabric. Regarding the background color, we note that we’ve seen only one with a plain white background, the one shown at the beginning of this post. This one we found at auction in Lehigh County:
applique quilt
This one also features that different center block along with the fleurs-de-lis.

applique quiltAnother, that we saw in another dealer’s online catalog also features that center block, as well as the zigzag inner border, common to all our examples so far. This one, we were told by the dealer, is also from Berks County, and features a brown on white print for its background fabric. We know of no other applique quilt pattern that so often uses a background other than white.

We found another variation in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln:
This one features a dogtooth inner border, and uses an orange pinstripe fabric for the background. The center attributes the quilt as “possibly made in Lancaster County, PA”, though we hope that our findings serve to correct that notion.

Of all the different backgrounds, perhaps our favorite is the one in double “Lancaster” blue with its vibrant color contrasts. Oddly enough this is the variation we’ve seen and owned most often, 2 different quilts as well as 2 quilt tops. This example features a straight line red inner border, and instead of a solid back has bars of alternating yellow and double pink calicos.
applique quilt

We could say that we haven’t seen any example of a quilt using either of the two different applique blocks without the other, but that wouldn’t be precisely true. We haven’t seen a full sized one, but this crib quilt, using only one applique, features one of our two patterns. This one also hails from Berks County.
applique quilt

We find the occurrence of these unusual quilts as an interesting phenomenon in the history of quilting; apparently a highly localized traditional pattern that, at least in our findings so far, is exclusive to a very small geographic area. Though they vary slightly in pattern, somewhat in size, and greatly in fabric choices, they share the two fleur-de-lis blocks, fabrics from the 4th quarter 19th century and locale.

We have to surmise that the pattern, once originated, was shared among friends in a quilting circle, maybe through church affiliation, family ties or grange membership, or by some other vehicle. It’s easy to understand how an experienced needleworker might have been drawn to this pattern and wanted to duplicate it. We hope to continue to find examples of this unusual pairing of applique blocks – hopefully anyone knowing the whereabouts, provenance or date of any will let us know. It would be especially intriguing to find one that originated elsewhere, or outside the end of the 19th century time period; though a single example among the number that we’ve seen would not necessarily change our attribution of local origins of the pattern.

October 1, 2008 The fall show

Filed under: General,◦Vintage — sharon @ 5:54 pm

This weekend was our fall show; that is, the Renningers’ Extravaganza here in Kutztown, PA. Held three times each year, spring, summer and fall, it’s the only organized show we’ve done in the last couple of years.

One drawback of the fall show in particular has often been the weather; this time was no exception. Opening day Thursday was cloudy and cool, with the breeze picking up through the afternoon. Higher winds and rain began overnight, then abated somewhat in the morning, with breezy and damp conditions all day Friday. It was never either very warm or very bright, and I had difficulty getting any decent pictures.

our booth
our booth

The uncomfortable weather did prove to have one advantage, however. For a change, we were able to sell heavy blankets and comforters, something that’s hard to do in the warmer months. Saturday we had more rain, so the whole show was not as busy as it might have been. And the predictions, for high winds and heavy rain, even though they didn’t materialize, probably kept both vendors and shoppers away.

our booth
our booth

So, while it was less extravagant than the usual extravaganza, we had fun seeing many friends from around the region who sell at the show, as well as some of our perennial customers. And we did sell, mostly textiles, but a little of everything from costume jewelry to salt & pepper shakers. Of course, we have yet to learn the secret of selling at a show without also buying there, and we did come home with our share of treasure, some of which we’ll no doubt feature here soon.

September 23, 2008 The quilts on the right

Filed under: General,◦Antique quilts,◦,◦Vintage — sharon @ 5:50 pm

Back in July I wrote, regarding our header illustration, that we are enamored of Pennsylvania quilts, particularly those of “Pennsylvania Dutch Country” which includes a swath of southeastern Pennsylvania from York and Adams Counties up through Lebanon, Berks and Lehigh – from the edge of the city of Philadelphia outward through the countryside. To our knowledge, no other area of the world is as well stocked with antique quilts, and as textile aficionados we couldn’t resist them. So we have built up a bit of a collection, as well as a stock for our website.

Along the right side of the blog below the links I’ve created a sort of quilt gallery of some of our favorites, including quilts both from our collection and our stock; all were acquired in this area of Pennsylvania, though perhaps one or two originated outside the area and traveled here with their families. Though they cannot speak, we’ve learned a lot from them – still we wish they could tell us more about the people and times from whence they came.

We hope to feature individual quilts and their stories from time to time on this blog – there’s an endless variety so stay tuned!

September 22, 2008 Irresistible

Filed under: General,◦Vintage — sharon @ 5:45 pm

Every once in a while…., OK, that’s wrong! Pretty often, I come across something that, while it’s not one of the many particular items that I usually buy, I still find irresistible. So it was when I stumbled across this shawl at a local flea market.

gold shawl

Seeing the way this 1920’s era shawl drapes from the table, you can get a little bit of an idea of the heavy, soft, buttery-supple consistency of the silk. And woven in is a gorgeous paisley pattern in gold thread.

gold shawl

This is a beautiful example of some of the fine textiles that came over from China in the 1920’s – nothing like the cheap, mass-produced goods of more recent years. I’m not sure whether it was actually used as a shawl or to drape on a piece of furniture, but it’s lovely and lush with its 15 inch silk fringe. Obviously never really used, and I can’t do it justice, so off it goes to my eBay store.

September 17, 2008 Outstanding

Filed under: General,◦Books,◦Country Living,◦Family,◦Food — sharon @ 5:38 pm

Tuesday, my son Tim invited us along with a few other guests to dinner at his farm. Well, Ok, more than a few – the table was set for 122. The weather was a little cloudy, cool and comfortable for an outdoor occasion.

The scene was a grassy knoll overlooking the farmhouse and pond on one side, the field with tomatoes, peppers etc. on the facing hill, and woods behind. outstanding tableoutstanding table

All right – you have the impression that this is more than an ordinary picnic, right? Yes, a special occasion indeed, arranged by Jim Denevan as part of his series Outstanding in the Field. Jim’s organization travels around the country, presenting dinners of local fare in a setting amid the fields and farms that produced the food on the menu; featuring not only local produce, but other local goods as well, from the main course to the beverages and dessert.

outstanding bookoutstanding menu

The event begins with a sparkling wine bar in the field, with hors d’oeuvres, a field tour and a short reading from Tim’s book. We particularly enjoyed the cardoon bread pudding, made with cardoons (an artichoke relative) that Tim grew in the field here. The sparkling chardonnay, along with the other wines on the menu, were from an award-winning local winery, Pinnacle Ridge.
outstanding wineoutstanding hors d'oeuvres

I got pictures of the stuffed baby bell peppers (above) but not of the other appetizers – they went too fast! Loved the smoked trout & corn blini, too!

The food is prepared by local professional chefs; in this case not exactly local – the presiding chef was Bill Telepan of New York City’s Telepan restaurant. He brought help along, too, from another New York restaurant, the Gotham Bar & Grill. Undaunted by the relatively primitive conditions, Telepan and his staff did a great job…. the flavors were all superb, the presentation beautiful.
outstanding chefoutstanding staff

It was already near dusk as the assembled crowd began to make their way to the tables.
outstanding crowdoutstanding dinner

The first course looked good before it was assembled,
outstanding crostini

By the time it reached the table, it was fabulous, topped with edible nasturtium blossoms.
outstanding crostini

The succeeding courses were served in the dark, the small candles at the table hardly served to show the faces of our fellow diners; we have no idea how the food appeared, just that it tasted fantastic, interesting flavors that were at the same time subtle and savory, without exception. We sat at table across from the beekeeper whose honey was part of dessert; and met the farmers who raised the pig, the peaches, and the goats that provided the milk for the feta. Our other table companions included a couple from Coney Island, three friends from North Carolina, and even some of the farm workers who had helped provide the produce on our plates.

By the time we finished dessert, it was 10 PM, the full moon had risen, and the temperature was down in the 50’s; all conditions that we’re normally unaccustomed to at dinner; nevertheless we enjoyed ourselves, the food and the conversation immensely. These days it makes all the sense in the world to buy and eat local products; we didn’t need to be convinced – but what a way to enjoy! For another view of the event here’s the article from the Reading, PA Eagle.

September 12, 2008 Fresh tomato pasta

Filed under: General,◦Country Living,◦Food — sharon @ 5:35 pm

One of the many reasons we anticipate tomato season for the rest of the year is a favorite pasta dinner. Since we’re lucky enough to have a large variety at hand, we collect a bunch of different colored paste tomotoes, red, yellow, orange – about 1 1/2 quarts. Also from our own garden, a clove of garlic, and plenty of basil.


A few ingredients from the store, too: Extra virgin olive oil, a can of black olives, salt to taste. Pretty basic and simple. This is not a recipe I can really put down on paper, since I don’t measure the ingredients, but here’s the general idea.

Into a large bowl I chop the tomatoes into medium sized chunks, then douse them with olive oil. Next, I chop several cloves of garlic really fine. I generally use a little salt on the garlic as I mince it; it makes the operation less sticky, and adds the salt that flavors the dish. After I stir in the garlic, I add basil. You can never add too much basil to tomatoes.

Someone once told me that cutting basil seals in the flavor; that the proper way to release the flavor is to tear the basil leaves – so that’s what I do. I keep tearing and tearing, stirring the mixture as the top becomes covered by flakes of basil. Finally, I drain the olives, slice them, if they’re not already sliced, and add them to the mixture. At this point, it should look something like this:


OK, all the hard work’s done! Except for adding more basil – I’m always adding more basil. As you finish combining everything, you will notice that the tomatoes are beginning to release a bit of their juice – this is part of the process. Now you cover the bowl, and keep it at room temperature for about 3 hours, more or less, so the tomatoes can deliquesce.

When you’re ready for dinner, boil up a pound of pasta – something like rotini, fusilli, radiatore to hold the juice – to the desired tenderness. Drain it, returning it immediately to the warm pot. At this point, you simply pour the whole tomato mixture into the pasta, stir it up, and serve. We were told it’s Pasta alla putanesca, but we’ve seen a wide variety of recipes with that name.

Anyway, it’s also delicious later, as a cold pasta salad, so we always make enough to have leftovers.

September 8, 2008 More White on white

Filed under: General,◦Antique quilts,◦Vintage — sharon @ 5:22 pm

I promised last month I’d feature our bargain quilt; one of our best bargains ever, the white on white trapunto that we bought at auction for $2.00. If the dresser cover was difficult to photograph, the entire quilt is nearly impossible. From any distance at all, the detail is nearly invisible to the camera. Instead, I’ll have to show details of various parts of the quilt.

Trapunto quilt

But first, the story behind this quilt – at least our story. We went to an auction one day, and were surprised to find twice as much merchandise as usual. We couldn’t believe it could all be sold in a day. There were hundreds of box lots to start off the sale, and tables and tables of china, glassware, pottery and other decorative items and antiques. The auctioneer announced that there would be two auctioneers selling simultaneously at first, with a third beginning later. That meant that at least one of us (there are only two) would have to be in two places at once.

Luckily, it seldom happens that items of interest to us are competing with other similar items at any one auction, so it wasn’t too difficult to decide where to focus our attentions. And one area that caught our eye was a room full of long tables, easily a dozen or more of them, all piled with textiles and linens. These, we were told, would be offered a bit later, so we’d have some time to look to see what was there.

As it turned out there was a lot to interest us in that one room. There were feedsacks and fabrics, tablecloths and towels, aprons and all sorts of vintage clothing, linens, bedspreads and more. Usually at auction we try to map out a strategy, deciding what items we want, and how much we’ll be willing to bid on them. Still, we’re often left with uncertainty as to how they’ll be offered. Sometimes feedsacks, for instance, are sold by the stack of 10, or 5, sometimes by the piece (your choice), sometimes in larger lots. But with the auction so crowded with merchandise, and with the auctioneers so busy, we weren’t able to find out their plans of attack. Still, we spent hours digging through the piles of stuff, making lists of items we wanted.

One thing that did surprise us was that, though the auction was advertised, there were not all that many bidders in attendance – perhaps a third less than usual. Maybe there were a lot of other auctions competing, maybe some people were on vacation. (It was late July.)

September 4, 2008 Feedsacks – the great American recycling experiment

Perhaps you think recycling is something relatively new; that because of dwindling resources and ever-increasing waste problems over the past couple of decades a new idea was born. But in fact, resources were much scarcer at some earlier times, and many Americans found ingenious ways to make do with what came to hand.

When cloth bags began to be used to ship and store grain, replacing crates and barrels, at first they were personal property, and reused to carry grain and flour back and forth to and from the mill. In rural Pennsylvania, these were handstitched from homespun linen, often stitched or stencilled with a name or initials to identify the owner. This Pennsylvania homespun linen bag probably dates from ca. 1870.
Linen grain bag
Linen grain bag

As the industrial revolution progressed, the bags began to be mass-produced, and it became more convenient for the miller to pre-fill the bags. The user of the product then had an empty bag to use for something else. Many of these bags were turned into towels or other utilitarian household textiles, including even underwear. The advertising labels were printed with inks that could be washed out, if properly cleaned. Some examples:
Red Rose sackArbuckle's sugar sack

But the development that really set feedsacks apart was when an enterprising bag manufacturer hit upon the idea of using a printed fabric to make his bags, so that the colorful fabric might be reused in other ways, and his sacks would then be in demand in their own right, as well as for the product they contained. And paper labels that could be easily soaked off were added to identify the product contained.
Little Boy Blue sackJorgensen's sack
The development of color printed feedbags was claimed by several different manufacturers; one Asa Bales had a patent on the idea, while a history of the Percy B. Kent Co. attributes the idea to one Richard Peek, one of its emplyees. Still another source attributes the first use to the Plant Milling Co. of St.Louis.

Through the shortages of the Great Depression and WWII, these printed bags sustained many a farm wife’s need for sewing material. The bags were used to create clothing, household linens, and quilts.
feedsack dressfeedsack apron
Sunbonnet Sue

These colorful fabrics, in all their great variety, have been popular ever since and are still a favorite of quilters around the world. In fact, some of the greatest recent demand for feedsacks has been from Japanese quilters and crafters, who fell in love with this uniquely American product.

The patterns range from solid colors through simple ginghams, checks and plaids, to floral patterns, dots and geometric designs, and whimsical figurals and juveniles.
feedsack apronfeedsack apron
feedsack apronfeedsack apron

There was also a subset of prints with borders, made specifically for reuse as curtains or pillowcases.
feedsack apronfeedsack apron

We could show you hundreds of different patterns; in fact, we do display over 400 different ones on our website at any given time. But that’s still a drop in the bucket. We’ve handled feedsacks in more than 4000 different patterns, and every time we turn around, we find more that are new to us. By our best estimate, there are probably 20,000 different patterns – a lady we know of in Florida has collected swatches for years, and so far has amassed over 18,000 different, and she’s still finding new ones all the time. Collectors today generally find it necessary to specialize because the field is so large.

This should not really come as a surprise; printed feedsacks were produced for over three decades, and during one year alone millions were made by many different companies, among the larger ones being Fulton Bag Co., Percy B. Kent, Bemis, Chase, Werthan – and many smaller companies as well, including some we apparently have no records of – only a logo surviving as a clue to their existence, but no name.

There’s an excellent article on feedsacks and feedsack fabric in Joan Kiplinger’s Vintage Fabric column on, and another later column that shows examples of repurposed feedsack fabric. Other articles on feedsack history are available on Pat Cummings’ website Quilter’s Muse, and on