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

Reproduction Fabric Review by Kimberly Wulfert, PhD
New England Quilt Museum's
Collage Collection
by In the Beginning Fabrics

This new fabric collection is based on a unique style of quilt. Sometimes this style  is called a mosaic, and sometimes a tile quilt, as it reminds one of the broken dish mosaics decorating pottery, in fountains, and on tables today. The New England Quilt Museum calls their version of it the Boston Pavement Quilt. It was this quilt that inspired their newest line of fabrics, now being made by In The Beginning Fabrics. This is a coast to coast venture as they work in conjunction with In the Beginning owner, Sharon Yenter, who helped choose and design their new line. A portion of the proceeds from all sales will go directly to the museum. So this is fabric you can buy for the sake of charity!!

The Boston Pavement Quilt, c.1895

from the collection of the New England Quilt Museum, Lowell, Mass..
Photo and permission courtesy of NEQM.


A few years back I began to research tile quilts, as they are a favorite of mine, but I found almost nothing about them, and no research project or paper could be found. What I able to ascertain is that this type of appliqué was more common in England than in America. In America, they appear in the last quarter of the 19th century, as compared to the early part of the 19th century in the British Isles.

 One American exception may be a quilt made in Connecticut, called Stone Wall, dated from as early as 1865 to 1890. You can view this on page 162 of "Quilts and Quiltmakers Covering Connecticut", which is Connecticut's documentation book. It does not contain any pictured printed fabrics. It is comprised of 20 tiled blocks and features a 9-patch on point border all around it. In Ohio's documentation book, "Quilts in Community, Ohio's Traditions", on page 123, is a  very unusual tile quilt from Medina County. It is jam packed with picture print motifs and embroidered shapes.. Some of the picture prints are cut out exactly and others are not. The shapes are irregular, but for the most part are squares or rectangles and completely cover the top made up of nine large muslin squares. The maker chose fabrics and embroidered scenes that reflected what was special to her in her life, like her husband's jewelry storefront. It is dated 1886-1887 and is called Mother Well's Quilt.

Turning to the earlier versions of this quilt found in the British Isles, "Quilt Treasures of Great Britain, the Heritage Search of the Quilter's Guild" pictures several of their variations of this style on pages 50-55. English quiltmakers would appliqué irregular shapes and printed motifs onto strips of fabrics on whole cloth size pieces, in center panels of medallions and into pieced blocks. The earliest dated one pictured is 1810. They differ from cut-out chintz appliqué quilts mainly because the motifs are not related to each other to form a large scene or flowering tree, for example.  The appliqués are more like individual photos like in a scrapbook album. The effect of streets is not a feature of these quilts, but the overall style and method is the same. In the New jersey documentation book,  "New Jersey Quilts, 1777-1950", on page 104, there is an example of the Scottish version which is dated 1860 on the quilt itself. It was sent from Galston, Scotland from the maker to her daughter in NJ. It is set in a medallion format, with plaid fabrics adorning the inner frames and the appliqué tiles are cut from plaid fabrics too, into large shapes of various leaves and stems. it's fringed on one side and unquilted. Two more Scottish quilts are described and pictured on pages 86-88 of "Quilts of the British Isles".  They are both in the strip style with Turkey Red strips in-between the white or light fabric with the appliquéd scraps scattered about. Both are backed but unquilted.

To make a  street tile style quilt, the quilter chooses a particular motif to feature in the center of the piece, and then builds other shapes, in different fabrics, around it. Women would cut out a printed lady, or child, or fan, or flower, some recognizable object from a piece of fabric and appliqué it down near the center of a muslin block. Next she would pick small calico prints from which she cut various shapes to appliqué around the picture piece. Some of the shapes were recognizable, like  scissors or a cat, while others were dissimilar geometric shapes. They were appliquéd in such a way as to leave a 1/8 to ¼ inch space of the muslin showing on all sides of each piece, giving the effect of grout or streets. In most cases, the quilt was made from many of these blocks, each one featuring a minimum of one main picture fabric motif. These were not usually cut out precisely; some of the background color was left around the rounded edges, giving an overall round effect. The surrounding tiles pieces were circles, triangles, rectangles or squares. Often the corners were slightly rounded. 


The NEQM's tile quilt is dated circa 1895. In my estimation, this is a time-span of variety in reproduction fabrics dating from at least the 1870s through the 1920s, as it includes prints on a black background, faux patchwork motifs dating, Garibaldi prints, all sizes and shapes of floral motifs, geometrics, and soft florals seen in 1920s colors and size. In total there are 68 prints in this large collection. In one of the two major fabric groupings, 36 of the prints are small scale and come printed with 4 color coordinated prints to each yard. (It is very French to back a quilt with this quarter fabric style.) There are three main colorways of each of the different prints which include shades of: red, gold-orange, blue, (all of these are with black as the second color), pink, brown, purple, and a French inspired small paisley and other flower motifs in blues, browns and pinks with light backgrounds. That is only half of the collection. The colors are rich and vibrant.

There are medium and larger scale fabrics as well. The medium scale motifs are flowers and they are of the type I have been waiting and waiting to see made- the larger Garibaldi style print (seen on the left) of two shades of red on black floral with a little touch of white for highlight, not like anything else on the market for years. It also comes in a two shades of blue on black, and manganese bronze with pink on dark brown. Absolutely right-on for an 1880s print. Gorgeous and again, you don't see this size and colorway on the market very often. It was very popular in end of the century quilts! View the fabrics here

In the second major group of fabrics, there are some pastel floral prints which are feminine in appearance and some strong geometrics with a masculine flavor. Some prints  look like bedroom florals while others look retro and oh so 50s! See this fabric at top of this page. Both the print style and the gray-green color were also seen in quilts and homes in the 1920s. 

This part of the collection offers a print of large roses in pink, peach and yellow colors on a tiny seaweed patterned ground reminiscent of the circa1825 period. The prints at the end of the century were trying to replicate those of the earlier years, just as we are now. There IS nothing new under the sun! A smaller, but still medium sized floral, comes in three pastel colorways on very pale, thinly stripped grounds. The flowers and leaves come in; aqua with peach, lilac with olive, and rose with mint green. Yummy! Each of these colorways have seven coordinating fabrics, but not the least bit "matchy", in small motifs of a wide variety of looks. The colors of the lilac and olive set are unique to the reproduction world and may not have been a color you saw in 1895, but it is a beautiful palette and very useable today.  Or- you can say it faded from a brighter green! The bronze-olive green was a color used in the 1880s, so it really is acceptable, but looks later too. View the fabrics here.  

Each of these fabrics would make tiles of different sizes and shapes to place around the center motif to replicate this quilt. NEQM did not let us down, as the feature fabric is a pre-print of the motifs to cut around and place in the center of the tile block. It comes in both a black and a beige background color. The motifs are Victorian, reminiscent period postcards, Valentines and picture books, in  colorful and quaint illustrations. There are fruits, fans, children, animals, flowers, a good luck charm, and more. This is a very fun fabric and would not be limited to only this style of quilt. A crazy quilt could incorporate them. For those who want to make a special "name it" or "can you find it" quilt for a child, this is perfect! 

Some of the motifs are large, which means the foundation muslin block could be large, like 14-18 inches. Other motifs are medium or small, and could be used as an outer tile, as seen in the 1895 quilt. One of the blocks in that quilt had five small motifs without a large motif in the center. This block was placed in the center of the quilt. Not every block contains a printed motif. I think this quilt was made by many different people in the style of a friendship quilt. There is a pattern for the museum's tile quilt in their book "The New England Quilt Museum Quilts" by Jennifer Gilbert, then curator, now director. The quilt size is 52X82' and the 35 blocks are 11 ½ inches square. They recommend cutting the square at 13 inches and sizing it after the appliqués have been attached.

In the Spring 2005 edition of the magazine "Designer's Quarters", a more contemporary quilt using these fabrics is given with a pattern. It is a variation of a pieced basket using the floral fabrics for the base and upper triangle, with the focus fabric uncut in the alternate squares, and the sun and moon fabric (seen on the left) in a wide border around it all. This article also shows a photo of the entire focus fabric prints and some close-ups of some of the others prints, but there are so many, space does not permit showing them all. So go to your quilt shop and ask for this fabric, or look online, and buy them for yourself and to help the New England Quilt Museum. Let us keep this quality and quantity of reproduction fabrics coming from this museum's collections. Show your support- this is a beautiful line of reproduction fabrics covering a large span of time to suit more than one of your tastes.

My thanks to:  
New England Quilt Museum 
In the Beginning Fabrics  
Designer's Quarters Magazine 


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© 2005 - 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.

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