Monday, January 3, 2011

A Little History - Red & Green

Dug out my quilt history books in response to the query about the origins of red and green quilt (colors). Seems like the general consensus is that this color combination became popular prior to 1850. There had been a major shift in preferred colors in early houses and the rugs, draperies and accessories reflected the popularity of reds. No doubt the accessibility of imported items influenced this, i.e. - richly colored oriental rugs and heavy tapestries.
During the mid 1800's turkey red dyes became more available and the stability that this process offered created a demand for turkey red cloth. (The intricate dye process for turkey red was discovered in 1810.)
Problems are evident today when a quilt contains some of the earlier greens. We have often viewed a vintage quilt where the red is still quite stable, but the greens have faded out to tans or lighter. A green could be obtained by using a combination of blue and yellow dyes and depending on the mordants used, results were unpredictable and frequently led to the faded tans which we see today.

If you could peek between the seam allowances which have not been exposed to light, a trace of the original green would probably be evident. "Poison green" is reputed to have earned its name because of some of the ingredients that went into creating that distinctive yellow tinged green color.

For a quiltmaker, a red and green appliqued quilt usually indicated her best work. These quilts required more yardage and hence, were more costly to prepare. But the new methods of making and printing cloth also introduced an easier level of applique compared to the more restrictive and expensive chintz used in broderie perse. I read somewhere, that by the time a red and green quilt was in the works, the quiltmaker was often in her late 40's or 50's with the family grown and on their own. She finally had time to devote to the intensity needed for such a work and the finished appliqued quilt was considered only for "show" - when company would visit and lovingly displayed on the bed. The popularity of this style of quilt also reflected the quiltmakers love of her natural surroundings - the designs could be taken right out of her garden...baskets filled with flowers and sitting on a side table in her home,  no doubt inspired a block that contain an elaborate appliqued basket and multiple leaves and flowers - perhaps a little bird hovering nearby.

You are probably like me and in your quilting library have a number of books relating to red and green quilts.
Just a couple I grabbed off the shelf...

Eileen Jahnke Trestain - Dating Fabrics - A Color Guide 1800-1960
And always a good reference source: Barbara Brackman! Her blog and any of her books!
And the queen of applique quilt books - Elly!
There is a lot of information out there - have fun looking and be sure to share with us!


  1. Thanks for the history lesson!!

  2. Thanks Lori. I have all those books. Lucky me! I will drag them out and re-read them. Wendy W

  3. Thanks for sharing. I have those books and being a Canadian, my US history knowledge is limited. I buy these quilt books and read them, so it's a two'fer for me. More quilts and history lessons!

  4. That was very interesting. Very fitting even by today's standards. I couldn't see myself working on this type of quilt with little kids running around...thus the kids are goine and in the 40-50 or more range. :D Oh well, I am loving sharing this journey with all of you.

  5. I love those books you choose. Recently I did add to my quilting library with older books and it was worth it.