Quilt History 
Today's Quilt Historians
Underground Railroad
Women at Work



New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, www.antiquequiltdating.com

Colonial Revival Style Quilts

Turn-of-the-20th Century Influences 
on American Quilts and Quilting
by Kimberly Wulfert, PhD

This article discusses some of the factors leading to the re-emergence of this quilt style. The next page, coming soon, will chart the similarities and differences between the 18th and 20th century versions of medallion  quilts.

Colonial Revival Style Quilts
Turn-of-the-20th Century Influences on American Quilts and Quilting

Marie D. Webster's quilts are first pictured in the January 1911 issue of The Ladies Home Journal (LHJ). Urged by her friends, Marie sends pictures of her quilts to the magazine. These are the first quilts featured in the LHJ. They are loose block-style quilts, with appliquéd motifs and no sashing. The borders are highly-detailed appliqué, one with a bough, two others with narrow bands of solid fabric and appliquéd flowers. The article meets with so much enthusiasm from the readers, editor Edward Bok asks her to send some more. She breaks away from the block style in her next selection, featured a year later in LHJ. The quilts she designs and makes are reminiscent of 18th and 19th Century center medallion quilts.

The Colonial Revival (CR) period style is in full swing at this time, and Marie's style of quilt fits right into it. Her quilts have large oblong centers, filled with appliquéd motifs. Most often, Marie chooses different flowers, arranging them with bouquets, baskets or birds. She also decorates her quilts with children. Her Sunbonnet Lassies child's quilt looks like the Sunbonnet Babies illustrations, and is one of the first appliqué versions of this popular embroidery pattern. A wide border surrounds the center panel, which is filled with appliqué motifs corresponding to the design elements in the center. Sometimes the borders are scalloped. The quilting patterns she chooses are varied and detailed. 

Marie’s CR period quilt style can be further described by the fabric colors she chooses, which are solid pastels or clear bright colors on a white background. Marie uses linen and cotton to make her quilts. The use of linen in solid clear colors lends itself to the Arts and Crafts textiles popular at that time. Plain, uncluttered, appliqués of motifs from nature were the hallmark of A&C textile design in embroidery and other needlework.

The Colonial Revival quilt style Marie made popular reminds me of the mid-18th Century to second quarter 19th Century-style quilt called a center medallion. This style is called a 'frame quilt' in Great Britain. 'Border quilt' is another term I’ve heard used, especially overseas. They all describe a quilt with a center panel surrounded by repeated borders, one after the other. The borders are pieced, appliquéd or printed. It is thought  that this style was derived from India’s 17th and 18th Century hand-painted and printed chintz panels. When made into bedcovers, they are called palampores. Generally, two styles of palampores are recognized in which the top is one piece of fabric hand-painted or hand-printed in a layout with a large center design, surrounded by one or more borders, but always finished with a wide border. One style has cornerstones (corner block designs in the wide border) of a complementary print, and  the other has none. The common assumption is that Persian rugs are the painter's design inspiration.

In 1909, Marie makes her poppy quilt, which appears in the January 1912 issue of LHJ, along with her highly-recognizable Sunflower quilt. She begins to sell quilt patterns in 1911, and iron-on transfers for her appliqué and embroidery patterns are made by the Home Pattern Company and sold in 1913 and 14. Quiltmaking is on the wane after the Crazy-style fad fades as the new century begins. Blankets can be bought now. 'New' anything is preferred over old. Quilting is considered  to be a necessary function, rather than  a chosen activity for pleasure. Making quilts indicates a woman can not afford 'store bought' bedcovers. Needlework is not valued or practiced much except for simple penny square embroidery or decorating towels and other linens. Women are working before they get married, and they are involved in leisure activities and sports if work is not a requirement. Clothing made especially for these activities, is a new item and available in local stores. Women’s clothing styles are giving them more freedom of movement, and they want movement!

The Industrial Revolution begins long before the Civil War, earlier in Great Britain then in America. Machines and factories affect all aspects of daily life for families. The textile industry is a major benefactor of advances in machinery, allowing American fabric to be affordable and plentiful as early as the 1830s. It is not necessarily as colorfast and colorful as Britain’s at this time, but it is a close second to the average eye, when plucked from the shelf. As time marches on and the ravages of the Civil War come to pass, art, merchandize and products which had formerly been worked by hand in some fashion, engraved, carved, painted, now are mechanically made.  Attention to detail, quality workmanship and uniqueness are lost in the process. As people begin to realize this, a longing for “the good old days” develops in American homes. They yearn for things handmade and look back in time for design and decorating inspiration.

The Colonial Revival starts about a decade after the Civil War ends, and lasts through the 1920s, while some sources extend it through to the 1950s, depending on the region of the United States. During the Civil War, in 1863, the Brooklyn and Long Island Sanitary Fairs hold New England kitchen exhibits to raise funds for the War effort. However, the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 is generally credited with the start of the movement. The Fair features exhibits of furnished colonial rooms and kitchens, awakening possibilities for the Revival to move into homes. There is also a renewed interest in old crafts, like woodworking, embroidery and weaving. The crazy quilt style springs into popularity immediately after the American Fair. Judith Montano, a crazy quilt teacher and author, talks about a Japanese mosaic patterned folding screen being the inspiration for the crazy style at the Centennial Fair. She describes a room divider sized screen with a  long, winding road made of individual, odd-shaped pieces (like rocks or mosaic tiles, I imagine). Other researchers suggest the inspiration came from Japanese mosaic pottery on exhibit there.

The making of heirloom or special occasion quilts is just too time consuming for the modern woman and the Crazy-style fad, using high-end fabrics with very fancy embroidery stitching, ends by 1900.  Crazy-style quilts are being made from men’s wool suiting fabrics and shirting flannels, not in silk and velvet as before. Appliqué is rarely seen and extensive quilting, such as the kind seen in a whole cloth quilt, is non-existent except among the Amish. The types of quilts made (when they are made) are patchwork, in simple patterns; charm quilts; foundation quilts; scrap or utility quilts; and simple repeated block designs like 9-patch or monkey wrench. The amount of quilting on a quilt is sparse, and tying was an oft-used option. Sewing machines are used more often now, to piece, bind and quilt the three layers together. 

The fabrics are also simple, often two colors, with white, black, light or dark blue or red being one of them. The print is uncomplicated in a small-to-medium size motif. Stripes, checks, textured weaves, and plaids are worn as clothing and put into quilts when they are no longer worn. A black fabric with neon bright colors of pink, blue, lime green, aqua, and yellow, is all the rage for women’s dresses from 1890 to 1910. When the color wares away by exposure to light and washing, the motifs appear white. So, white-on-black fabrics are plentiful in these quilts today.  Large florals on shades of brown or red grounds, in a twill weave, are often used the backs of quilts, or cut into smaller pieces on the front. These fabrics are cretonnes, the end-of-the-19th Century’s version of unglazed chintz.

There is a longing for a reflection of simpler times, with quality products and less ornate furnishings at home.  Homeowners had been choosing English Tudor, Victorian, and Italianate styles, a continuation of their enduring infatuation with European tastes. With this Revival, their eyes turn to Colonial America, not old England. Colonial Revival architecture combines elements of both Federal and Georgian architecture, popular styles in America in the 1700s and early 1800s.

Two movements develop now which affect home décor and needlework designs. The Arts and Crafts Society describes the resulting trends this way:

 “The Arts and Crafts and Colonial Revival movements began during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Although existing separately, each represented a revolution in style, design, and artisanship that developed in response to what proponents identified as a loss of character and substance in the design and manufacture of products and structures." 

- Winterthur Library

The Arts and Crafts, or Craftsman Movement, was strongly supported by: Frank Lloyd Wright, architect and furniture designer primarily, but his thinking influenced all aspects of home and garden design; Charles Rennie Mackintosh, architect, furniture, and textile designer of furnishing fabrics; and Gustav Stickley, furniture designer, and publisher of Craftsman Magazine. Candace Wheeler, a female amongst the men, is an interior designer who studies with Tiffany. She designs both textiles and wallpapers. She writes instruction manuals for different needlecrafts.

Stickley does the most for quilters, as he supports the creating of designs that  compliment his Craftsman-style tastes and furnishings. He likes plain and textured fabrics, such as linen and muslin, decorated with designs from nature in their natural colors. Simplicity is the key.  Simple flowers, pods, leaves, flower outlines, and acorns are popular motifs he and his followers enjoy. Embroidered pillows, towels, curtains and seat cushions with these motifs remain popular through WWI and into the1930s. Another favored motif is sunflower. It is the symbol of the Aesthetic Movement, which proceeds and overlaps with the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 1907, Stickley sponsors an appliqué contest for designs to trim or adorn curtains and pillows. His prizes for the winners are pieces of Craftsman furniture. In the summer of 1908, Stickley publishes a quilt article in his magazine, Craftsman Magazine,  titled Patch Quilts and Philosophy, in which he describes quilts made by Appalachian quilters.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, comes Wallace Nutting. He is an artist, writer, reproduction furniture designer, and photographer. Nutting (--> to find quilting picture, click interior picture, click Patchwork quilting , also click stitching, click daily activities.) appreciates and studies the colonial  period in America. 

Although he is considered a nut by some, Nutting is actually one of the first preservationists in America. He collects old household items, furniture, home décor, and houses. At one time, he owns five houses in Connecticut, none of which he lives in. He  dresses women in period costumes and takes photographs of them doing daily activities in order to preserve and demonstrate how Americans  lived in colonial times. Tourists visit his houses. He also hand-tints the black and white photos he takes, and sells the prints, which are now quite collectable. Thanks to him, we have examples of all the different styles of chairs, beds, tables, desks, etc., that were used by our colonial foremothers; and photos of life back then, albeit re-enacted. Sometimes he took a little too much liberty in that re-creating, say his critics.

As the new century proceeds, decorating becomes a passion for many women, not just the upper classes. Home appliances and other inventions from the Industrial Age afforded them something new -- free time -- and they are told by  magazines and newspapers to engage in something simply for the sake of bringing beauty into their homes. Quilts had once filled that role, as well as other needlecrafts and art forms. But, it is different now. They have new choices, readily available and affordable.

"In the early 20th century, advertisers found the appeal of "colonial" imagery -- spinning wheels, historic furniture patterns, and heroic icons such as George Washington -- central to the promotion and sale of products in a new consumer culture. Some companies directly encouraged this trend by marketing Colonial Revival pattern reproductions.” 

-- The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages.

The new century brings a new look to quilts, but is it really? The next article will discuss the similarities and differences between the 18th and 20th century versions of the center medallion style of quilt.

For related quilt articles see:

Colonial Revival Era Quilts: Women's Symbols of Endurance
Quilts from the exhibit at Stagecoach Inn Museum in Newbury Park, CA 2002, curated by Kimberly Wulfert

Depression Era Quilts: Cheer in Fabric and Color (America's Quilting History)

The Quilter's Hall of Fame is now in the former home of Marie Webster

Quilter's Hall of Fame
the organization that honors quilters, past and present

Marie Webster, quilt designer and pattern company owner

From Colonial Revival to Depression Era Quilts


* Quilts

© 2002 - 2016 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.

Fabrics & Dyes
Rugs & Textiles
Books & Reviews
Resource Links

Visit my
online shop ...
for quilt history lovers! 

* Gifts & Jewelry,
* Books & Stationery,
* Archival Supplies, 
* DVDs,
* Quiltmaker Supplies.