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

Reproduction Fabric Review by Kimberly Wulfert, PhD

A New Line of Large Scale Fabrics

 The Pat L. Nickols Collection II c. 1840
for P & B Fabrics

Run, don’t walk, to your nearest quilt shop and buy this fabric line for your pre Civil War reproduction quilts. Pat and P&B have done an outstanding job of reproducing fabrics from Pat’s personal collection of antique quilts and textiles. Pat is a quilt historian that has been researching and collecting quilts for a long time. Her research has been published in Uncoverings, the research journal of The American Quilt Study Group, as well as other respected publications.

The original colorway of fabric is indicated by the word Document color, and is featured in its actual size. Just click on the thumbnail.  These are the largest chintz and monochrome prints I have seen, made exclusively for quilter’s. Usually one can only get chintz like this by purchasing furnishing fabrics, which are quite expensive and hard to find if you are not “in the trade.”

We will begin with the fabrics called monochromes. These are one color on a light background, copperplate or roller printed, fabric. They became feasible with the invention of the copperplate printing method, discovered by Frances Nixon, in Ireland in 1752. A large intaglio engraved copper plate was filled with dye or mordant, scrapped, and pressed down hard on to the fabric. Very fine lined and detailed motifs could be printed, which had not really been possible with wood block printing. Monochrome (one color) prints from the period, were made in indigo, madder red, sepia (medium brown) black or purple. The ground color would be a version of white or ecru. Sometimes the colors were reversed (dark background with light design) when a resist or a discharge method (this came at a later date) of printing was employed. The ground is dyed first and the color is “bleached” out as in the discharge method, or stopped from being printed, as in the resist method. Rarely does a copperplate print have an additional color penciled (hand applied with a brush-like pen) on it. Monochrome prints were not glazed.

Pat’s line has two monochromes. The red document fabric might also be called a toile. It is a roller print and resembles the well-loved pillar print style, both of which were popular from 1815 to 1830. The roller printer was patented by Thomas Bell, from Scotland, in 1783. The method took awhile to catch on, but was good enough to become a common and preferred method of printing around 1810.  A basket of roses, tiger lilies, ferns and grapes, surrounded by a serpentine stripe of feather-leafs is the pattern. This design would not have been possible with a copperplate print, which printed large squares or rectangles, not scrolling designs. Otherwise, it is rather difficult to tell the difference between the two methods. One way is the repeat. Copperplates are larger than the roller prints, which started out at 15” diameter. The repeat on Pat’s print is 13 1/2”. Indigo and green on white are the two other color choices offered.   (Click on picture to enlarge.) 

The other monochrome is an indigo print, which is called Birds.   It features an eagle with spread wings and a Bird of Paradise. Both of these birds were popular motifs on textiles. The Bird of Paradise is recognizable due to its long graceful tail feathers. The birds are small next to the over-sized fanciful flower heads interspersed between the birds. At the ends of knurled branches are exotic open blossoms with great detail. They measure approximately 6” across the blossom.  This could be a reproduction made in the 1830s, of a block print made in the 1790s. Notice that the lines are not as fine as the other roller printed monochrome, and the flower heads feature denser areas and chunkier motifs. Aborescent, or nature prints with a scrolling design, were popular throughout early textile design. Nature served as a source of design inspiration for forms of art. This design could be from England as there are similar ones in the collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The line includes black ink on background colors of rich, deep red, blue or green.  (Click on picture to enlarge.) 

A full chintz fabric meant it had five or more colors, and was glazed.  Pat’s line features a full chintz that was a furnishing print from the 1830s, based on a floral print by copperplate from the 1780s.  The approximate width of the main floral spray is 12”.  The document color has a tan color ground, but brown would have been just as likely, in the late 18th century through the 1830s. Other colors used for grounds were light blue, medium green, yellow, and red. Pat’s line offers tan, blue and green grounds.  This particular floral spray is similar to one produced at an early and prominent English print works company, Bannister Hall.  (Click on picture to enlarge.)

This chintz fabric is seen on a circa 1835 elongated nine-patch quilt from the Old Sturbridge Village collection,  as pictured in the book “Northern Comforts” by Lynne Bassett (see “Historian Interviews” on this Web site) and Jack Larkin.  A light blue background version of the chintz is used here, with prints in pinks in browns.  It is a T-square or four-poster bed quilt, made in Fitchburg Massachusetts.  (Click on picture to enlarge.) 

Tossed Leaf is a medium scale all-over floral print. With delicate details on the ground and leaves. It is also found in Pat's quilt, with the chintz fabric shown above. The document colorway is red flowers, green leaves on a ecru ground. Very delicate, wispy print. It was likely a dress print, not a furnishing fabric.  It also comes in beige on tan, and red and blue on ecru colorways. This would have been rollerprinted. 

Four smaller prints accompany the line, all would have been roller printed. Listed in descending order by size they are Ombre, Vine, Wheat and Bud. The ombre print is called a rainbow print when the colors change, not just the values of one color as in an ombre or fondue print, which are both French terms. Originally, this print's colors were all made from madder dye, and therefore the print technically was an ombre.  One print is in blues, ecru and greens, another, greens, light blue and salmon, and the document is reds and tans. On top of the roller printed shaded colors is another roller print engraved design in black. It is a meandering spray of vines and tiny leaves.  These striped prints add so much interest and realism to reproduction quilts made to look like those from 1830-60.  The colors coordinate nicely with the larger prints. Do not be afraid to use color- older fabrics are very colorful, as are early quilts. They would not match colors; they used all these colors together.

The Vine pattern has tiny tulip shaped flower heads on thin meandering vines stems.  This particular fabric could be used in many different reproduction quilts. It would look at home in the 1880s and 1920-30s. The document color of this dress print is pink on ecru; the alternatives are blue on ecru and tan on beige

Wheat is another versatile fabric, looking just as good in a contemporary quilt as an old one. It comes in dark, rich colors: navy, brown, green, red and medium light blue. The print is black, red is the document color. This dress print is similar to designs produced in London during the 1840s.

Bud is a very tiny and delicate over-all dress print. This would have been used for everyday dresses. It reads as a light to medium value in green or light red on ecru , and tan on beige. The red is the original color. This print could be used for quilts dating from 1840 through the 1930s.

Pat wrote an article about her new line for American Patchwork & Quilting (Sept/Oct 2002 issue), including a medallion quilt pattern. You use this line for quilts dating from the early 1800s until 1860. Large scale fabrics and chintz began falling out of favor in the 1850s. 

Thank you to P & B Fabrics and Pat L. Nickols for supplying fabric.


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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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