Chintz Appliqué: From Imitation to Icon

Chintz Appliqué: From Imitation to Icon

Chintz Appliqué: From Imitation to Icon

Inspired by the painted and printed cottons of India, famous for their lively beauty and lasting qualities, the stunning colors and artistry of chintz appliqué quilts made them icons in the nineteenth century. They are considered among the most beautifully crafted, vibrantly colored and largest quilts ever made in America. The 21 quilts, circa 1790-1850, presented in the exhibition organized by Curator of Collections Carolyn Ducey, give a glimpse into their makers' lives and society.

Inventive American and European women imitated the look of costly Indian textiles by cutting and applying pieces of chintz to neutral backgrounds. Chintz, polished cotton of verdant foliage and leaves colored in multiple rich hues, was unlike anything Europeans had known. Its lustrous beauty evoked visions of strange cultures and unknown lands. Challenges in international trade, trade imbalances and consumer demands mark the story of the chintz evolution.

Printed cottons came to Europe from India, first as a novelty, used initially as barter in the three-way trade for spices in the late 1500s. The overwhelming popularity of these printed cottons strained the important wool and silk markets in England and France in the final years of the seventeenth century, leading to government bans on Indian imports in Great Britain. At the same time, European manufacturers tried to meet the high demand for printed cotton fabrics by mastering the complex dyeing methods. New mechanized processes led to faster and less expensive cotton spinning, weaving and printing. By the time trade restrictions were relaxed in the mid-1770s, British manufacturers had cornered the market, effectively eliminating India from the trade.

American chintz appliqué quilts were almost exclusively constructed of British printed fabrics. The British maintained tight control of chintz production until the 1830s when the United States became a player in the cotton printing industry. Chintz appliqué quilts were made during a period of marked changes in all aspects of American society. Family-oriented rural communities, in which most of life's necessities were produced by a family's own labor, were altered as families moved to urban centers and took on factory jobs. Manufactured goods became plentiful and affordable and paychecks provided the means to purchase fashionable items. Textile markets boomed and change appeared in the fabric of American lives. This exhibition explores one aspect of that pivotal time in America's history.

The quilts come from America's Eastern seaboard, including pieces from the Delaware Bay area of Philadelphia and Baltimore, and others from Virginia and the Carolinas. They are drawn primarily from the center's Ardis and Robert James Collection and the Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection.

Rosemary Crill, Senior Curator in the Asian department at the Victoria and Albert Museum in Great Britain presented a lecture, underwritten by the Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Excellence Fund as part of the exhibition

A Brief History of Chintz

A Brief History of Chintz
A Brief History of Chintz

Chintz, a polished fabric of verdant foliage and flowers colored in multiple rich hues, was a fascinating mystery to Europeans when it was first introduced from India in the 1600s, an era of maritime exploration and trade. 

Chintz cottons were unlike anything Europeans had known. Their lustrous beauty brought visions of strange cultures, unknown lands and spectacular flora and fauna whose exotic beauty excited their imagination. The word chintz first appeared in merchant records in the seventeenth century. It was derived from the Indian word chint, meaning “to sprinkle or spray,” a reference to the speckled background seen on many early chintz fabrics. Indian dyers had been producing brightly colored printed cottons for centuries and, by the time trade with Europe began in earnest, had mastered the complicated mordant dyeing process required produce colorfast cottons. Mordants - metallic compounds used to fix dyes to fibers - are necessary when coloring cotton, as the fibers have no inherent affinity for most natural dyes. Aluminum, iron, or tin mordants, alone or in combination, interact with the chemical composition of dyes and create a permanent coloration. One of the most widely used natural dyes was derived from the madder root. It yielded a colorfast red when used with aluminum, a purplish black when used with irons and a variety of intermediate shades when used with a combination of the two. Knowledge of the complex process of mordant dyeing in India was passed down from family member to family member. After the mordants and dyes were combined in the printing process, a highly polished finish was produced through a process of starching, beetling (pounding the surface of a textile with wooden mallets to make it smooth), and chanking or polishing the fabric surface with a shell in order to produce a glossy finish.

Printed cottons came to Europe first as a novelty, used initially as barter in the three-way trade for spices that began in Europe in the late 1500s. Merchants discovered a sea route to the Spice Islands – today known as the Maluku Islands (formerly the Moluccas) and the Banda Islands, located between Indonesia and Australia - in the sixteenth century. Spice traders were not interested in European and Dutch bullion. Instead, merchants sailed to India to trade their gold for block-printed and painted cottons that were highly desired by the inhabitants of the Spice Islands. European merchants began to carry a few of the exotic textiles back to their European home ports. The textiles, called palampores, quickly drew attention because they were brightly-colored , colorfast and washable. 

Recognizing their customers’ interest in cotton, merchants requested modifications in the colors of the cotton prints, encouraging Indian dyers to use a white background rather than the traditional red ground popular in eastern markets, and providing patterns for floral motifs they knew would interest a European clientele. The textiles continued to gain popularity throughout the seventeenth century.

The overwhelming popularity of these printed cottons strained the important wool and silk markets in England and France in the final years of the seventeenth century. Great debates ensued regarding control of the influx of Indian cotton textiles. Finally, in the early years of the eighteenth century, the governments of England and France intervened, and enacted laws that forbade the import of printed cotton textiles. The laws made it difficult to obtain the desirable Indian fabrics, though a loophole allowed merchants to export the textiles; therefore English ships continued to supply the American colonies with a wide variety of English and Indian textiles. Indian cottons were also available in England through a flourishing black market.

At the same time, European manufacturers, recognizing the high demand for printed cotton fabrics, strove to master the complex methods required for mordant dyeing. New mechanized processes led to faster and less expensive cotton spinning, weaving and printing. By the time the government bans were lifted on Indian imports in Great Britain in the mid-1770s, British manufacturers had cornered the market on printed cottons, effectively eliminating India from the trade.

Chintz was used in Europe for upper-class women’s gowns and men’s banyans - long jackets or robes worn when relaxing at home. Eventually chintz became popular for home décor in which it was used to decorate one of the most important household furniture items, the bed. Bedcoverings included a whole cloth quilt and curtains and valances that draped the canopy. In some cases, matching draperies and wall coverings were also used to create a fashionable bedroom. The popularity of chintz quickly made it a staple of the well-furnished home, a craze that swept through the privileged classes of England and France and lasted for decades. Chintz appliqué became stylish for use in quilts in the late eighteenth century and remained popular until the 1850s, when it was replaced by appliqué designs made primarily of red and green calico fabrics.

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English Origins 
English influence is evident in chintz appliqué quilts made in America. The center medallion composition and the use of pictorial appliqué were both typical of eighteenth century English quiltmaking traditions. In addition, the majority of fabrics used in these quilts were printed in England.

Tree of Life
The tree of life motif is universally recognized as a symbol of healing, immortality and protection. It became fashionable when Indian palampores—printed and painted cotton textiles for bed coverings and bed hangings—were imported to Europe beginning in the seventeenth century. The tree of life was the favored quilt design of American quiltmakers from approximately 1775 to the 1820s.

Medallion Style
Beginning in the 1820s quiltmakers turned almost exclusively to a center medallion format featuring wreaths or floral bouquets gathered in baskets or vases. The center designs are surrounded by borders comprised of strips of chintz fabric or pieced blocks.

Southern Panels
A distinctive style of cut-out chintz appliqué quilt emerged in North Carolina and South Carolina during the late 1820s and 1830s. The quilts were constructed from pre-printed panels made specifically for use in quilts and home furnishings. The panels included a single large-scale design for the center field and a series of smaller coordinating motifs that could be spread over the quilt’s background.

Delaware Bay Albums
In the early 1840s, chintz appliqué quilts changed from a center medallion format to a block style. In the Delaware Bay area, the albums were constructed in a simple grid of single chintz motifs, often without borders. The blocks were typically inscribed with names, dates and emotive or religious phrases.

Hybrid Albums
In the 1840s and 1850s, the use of chintz fabrics in quilts began to decline. Hybrid albums containing chintz appliqué and appliqué constructed of inexpensive cotton calico fabrics illustrate the transition between the two different styles.

Creative Adaptations
Floral motifs were by far the most popular design used in chintz appliqué quilts. They were stitched together in endless variations, ranging from single flowers to overflowing bouquets. In an effort to create even more elaborate designs, quiltmakers often combined different chintz fabrics to create unique, new motifs.

 

Works in the Exhibition

Works in the Exhibition

Tree of Life
Maker unknown
Probably made in United States, 1790-1810
123” x 132”
Purchase made possible through the James Foundation Acquisition Fund
IQSC 2007.034.0001

In addition to the stylized tree of life and long-tailed birds featured in this quilt, the maker fashioned borders with fabric that depicts latticework gates and unusual vases and urns. Designs such as these were known as chinoiserie, from the French word ‘chinois,’ meaning Chinese. Images inspired by art and design from China, Japan and other Asian countries were freely re-interpreted through the addition of exaggerated, imaginary details. The style became popular during the mid-1700s.

This quilt is nearly eleven feet square. Such sizeable spreads were needed to cover fashionable four-poster beds often piled high with feather mattresses or ticks and accommodating a trundle bed beneath.

Medallion
Maker unknown
Possibly made in United States or United Kingdom, circa 1820
83.5” x 83.5”
Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection
IQSC 2008.040.0002

This unfinished quilt top illustrates the strong influence of English culture on chintz appliqué quilts, particularly in the use of pictorial appliqué and in the multiple story lines illustrated in the various fabrics. In the center of the quilt top, and repeated in the outer border, one fabric portrays a number of English and Indian hunters engaged in a wild boar hunt. A second fabric that portrays young people in a variety of activities illustrates a popular English poem, “The Deserted Village,” a moral tale of innocence corrupted by evil. A banner in a third fabric, located in the bottom row, identifies it as the “The village and church of Waterloo.” This references the legendary rout of Napoleon by Wellington at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Medallion
Maker unknown
Probably made in United States, 1820-1840
122.5” x 124”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 2006.003.0004

Multiple symmetrical borders of chintz fabric frame a slender woven basket holding tulips, lilacs, and passion flowers in the elegant Medallion quilt on the left. The quiltmaker used a stuffed work technique to add dimension to her quilting. The stuffed work, created by inserting extra cotton batting through the quilt’s backing fabric into channels formed by the quilting stitches, includes a flowing grapevine draped with ripe grapes and curling tendrils, overflowing cornucopias and a plump feathered plume. The quilting designs are similar to that found on the Eliza Thompson quilt (1997.007.0257).

Medallion
Attributed to Susan Pritchard Kirkwood
Probably made in Charleston, South Carolina, dated 1837
101.5” x 97.5”
Purchase made possible through the James Foundation Acquisition Fund
IQSC 2008.009.0001

Susan Pritchard Kirkwood of Charleston, South Carolina, inscribed her son’s name, William D. H. Kirkwood, and the year, 1837, in ink at the top of the large scale floral arrangement of this quilt. William, born June 12, 1831, was the third child of Susan and William Kirkwood, who is listed in mid-nineteenth century census records as a ship builder. William Jr. survived the Civil War, but was tragically struck by lightning and died shortly after his return home, according to a note accompanying the quilt.

 

Medallion 
Maker unknown
Probably made in United States, 1830-1850
101” x 98.5”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 2006.003.0002

A large, overflowing basket filled with peaches, plums, grapes and a pineapple forms the center focus of the quilt on the right. The same design, in smaller scale, is repeated in the four corners that frame the basket. In addition, a series of roundels, printed with a tiny strawberry, may also have been a part of the panel’s design. The fruit basket panel is found in numerous quilts of North Carolina and South Carolina. 
The fruit basket may have been adapted for use as a fabric design from English engraver Robert Furber’s print titled Winter, The Fruits of the Season. Furber produced a series of engraved prints titled The Twelve Months of Flowers in 1730.

Medallion
Maker unknown
Probably made in United States, 1830-1850
111” x 109.5”
Purchase made possible through the James Foundation Acquisition Fund
IQSC 2007.040.0001

Numerous chintz fabrics are combined in the quilt on the left. The center medallion is a large bouquet of roses, carnations and tulips. Each of the corners framing the bouquet features one of the most widely seen motifs found in chintz appliqué—a pheasant perched beneath a palm tree. Two unique borders illustrate uncut fabric panels: one features a combination of floral wreaths with butterflies, while the second, on opposite sides of the quilt, holds octagonal panels that depict a chinoiserie design of two men in Eastern dress.

Medallion
Maker unknown
Probably made in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, dated 1843 and 1844
93” x 110”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 1997.007.0479

This pair of album quilts, though made nearly ten years apart, is believed to be linked by familial relationships. The name of William Rodgers Sturgeon is inscribed in ink on both quilts on blocks that feature an identical print of England’s Queen Victoria. The fabric may have commemorated Victoria’s coronation in 1837.
In addition to William Rodgers Sturgeon, four additional names—Elizabeth and Debby Schaffer and Helen and Josephine Craig—are written on the Pennsylvania quilt. These five individuals have not been located despite extensive research of genealogical records, leading to speculation that the names represent children who died young. This may also explain why the quilt appears to never have been washed or used.
The second quilt, believed to have been made in Springfield, Ohio, contains more than fifty names. The majority have been identified as members of the Rodgers family. The center block includes the inscription “Mother,” identified as Jane Linn Rodgers, and the names of her two sons, Andrew and Denny. Additional blocks include all of Jane’s living step-children, grandchildren and her first great-grandchild, Isaac Frey, who was born in 1852.
Richard and Helen Sturgeon, included the names of their children William, Helen and Birdie on the Queen Victoria block in this second quilt. Theresa Sturgeon, Richard’s sister, signed the quilt as well. Perhaps the Sturgeon family traveled to Springfield to celebrate the arrival of Jane Rodgers’ first great grandchild, carrying their treasured fabrics to incorporate in this special commemorative quilt.

Medallion
Maker unknown
Probably made in Springfield, Ohio, circa 1852
103.5” x 101.5”
Gift of Ardis and Robert James
IQSC 2001.015.0001

This pair of album quilts, though made nearly ten years apart, is believed to be linked by familial relationships. The name of William Rodgers Sturgeon is inscribed in ink on both quilts on blocks that feature an identical print of England’s Queen Victoria. The fabric may have commemorated Victoria’s coronation in 1837.
In addition to William Rodgers Sturgeon, four additional names—Elizabeth and Debby Schaffer and Helen and Josephine Craig—are written on the Pennsylvania quilt. These five individuals have not been located despite extensive research of genealogical records, leading to speculation that the names represent children who died young. This may also explain why the quilt appears to never have been washed or used.
The second quilt, believed to have been made in Springfield, Ohio, contains more than fifty names. The majority have been identified as members of the Rodgers family. The center block includes the inscription “Mother,” identified as Jane Linn Rodgers, and the names of her two sons, Andrew and Denny. Additional blocks include all of Jane’s living step-children, grandchildren and her first great-grandchild, Isaac Frey, who was born in 1852.
Richard and Helen Sturgeon, included the names of their children William, Helen and Birdie on the Queen Victoria block in this second quilt. Theresa Sturgeon, Richard’s sister, signed the quilt as well. Perhaps the Sturgeon family traveled to Springfield to celebrate the arrival of Jane Rodgers’ first great grandchild, carrying their treasured fabrics to incorporate in this special commemorative quilt

Album 
Made by Marie M. Fish and Emma Fish
Made in Trenton, New Jersey, dated 1843
94” x 94”
Purchase made possible through the James Foundation Acquisition Fund
IQSC 2005.053.0003

This quilt features a printed panel of an eagle with outstretched wings inscribed with the names of Jonathan and Emmeline Fish. The quilt, believed to have been made as a celebration of their wedding anniversary, was made by family members Maria Fish and her daughter Emma. The remaining blocks were signed by a host of friends, neighbors and family members, including “Father and Mother,” “Grandmother Taylor,” and “Aunt Eliza” among many others. Two additional album quilts made by Maria and Emma Fish in 1842 and 1843 are located in the collections of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Denver Art Museum

Album
Made by Mary V. Yeadon
Made in Charleston, South Carolina, dated 1848 and 1849
107.5” x 108”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 2006.003.0005

In her album quilt, Mary V. M. Yeadon incorporated blocks signed by her sisters, sister-in-law, and nieces, containing the dates 1848 and 1849. In an inked inscription on the reverse, she wrote: “To Mary V. Kirk, from her mama M. V. M. Yeadon, 1885.” Research reveals, however, that Mary Yeadon was actually Mary Kirk’s aunt. Young Mary’s mother died within a year of her birth in 1842, and Yeadon evidently raised her. In fact, both Mary Kirk and Yeadon’s niece Eliza Palmer, whose name is also inscribed on the quilt, lived with their aunt and uncle well into their adult years. Nearly forty years after the quilt was made, Yeadon gave it to young Mary, whom she considered her daughter.

Album
Possibly made by Lydia Corliss and Lily Corliss
Possibly made in Maryland, dated 1843
96” x 101.75”
Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection
IQSC 2008.040.0005

A second album quilt, believed to have been made in Baltimore, Maryland, is constructed with a diagonal setting. The sashing—the fabric used to frame the individual blocks—was carefully cut to emphasize a printed floral stripe. Two blocks are inscribed with the names “Lily Corliss, 1842” and “Lydia Corliss, 1843.” Unfortunately, without further information, it is impossible to determine the identity of these women.

Album
Maker unknown
Possibly made in Pennsylvania, 1840-1860
98” x 98”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 1997.007.0890

The chintz fabrics in the hybrid album quilt on the left feature unusual motifs, including, in the top row, a man riding an elephant while seated in an elaborate howdah (carriage) and men strolling beneath the swaying fronds of a palm tree and, in the bottom row, a man riding a stately camel. They are presented in combination with red and green calico appliqué designs that grew in popularity as chintz appliqué designs waned.  

Album
Made by T. Ann Hulls
Made in Baltimore, Maryland, dated 1852
110” x 110”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 2006.003.0003

The second hybrid album from Baltimore, Maryland, is a unique mix of two distinct quilt styles—chintz appliqué and the elaborate appliqué quilt style known as Baltimore Albums. The floral bouquets, wreaths, and cornucopias common to Baltimore albums are believed to imitate expensive chintz floral designs. 
The unusual quilt on the far left also contains cross-stitched messages, including, in the star’s center, the word “Baltimore.” In the appliquéd circles, the maker added the Biblical phrases “God is Love” and “Seek and ye shall find.” On the quilt’s backing, in a carefully drawn inked design of a floral wreath enclosing a scroll, an inscription reads “T.A. Hulls/There can be no obstacles to the spirit that wills./Jan. 1st, 1852.” T. Ann Hulls was listed in the 1860 census records for Baltimore County as a teacher of the inmates of the Refuge House of Baltimore, with a very modest income. She obviously let no obstacles keep her from creating her unique masterpiece!

Medallion
Maker unknown
Possibly made in New England, 1830-1850
108.5” x 107.5”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 1997.007.0659

These two quilts use the same popular chintz fabric - featuring a wicker basket balanced on the capital, or top, of an architectural column—in their overall design. Called “pillar prints,” this style of design was popular during the 1820s. 
The first quilt features a pieced Bethlehem Star medallion, accented by a green swag and surrounded by unusual borders that include an appliquéd clamshell design, pale blue feathered plumes and eight-pointed stars. The wide outer border features the woven basket pillar print, which evidently was not quite wide enough to suit the maker. She extended the width of the flower baskets by adding a piece of a second floral chintz fabric on both sides.

Medallion
Maker unknown
Probably made in United States, 1830-1850
103” x 100”
Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection
IQSC 2008.040.0006

These two quilts use the same popular chintz fabric - featuring a wicker basket balanced on the capital, or top, of an architectural column—in their overall design. Called “pillar prints,” this style of design was popular during the 1820s. 

The second quilt displays a pillar print basket in each corner. Its maker used a second chintz fabric to add height, as well as to create the undulating floral border in the body of the quilt. The additional chintz is the same as that used in the center medallion of the quilt.

Medallion
Attributed to Eliza Thompson
Possibly made in South Carolina or Virginia, dated 1809
101” x 101”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 1997.007.0257

This medallion quilt is the earliest dated quilt in this exhibition. Within the symmetrical wreath the name “Eliza Thompson” and the date“1809” are embroidered in red embroidery floss. Is Eliza the recipient or of the maker? Unfortunately, it is impossible to learn more about the life of Eliza Thompson because critical clues required for further genealogical research are missing.

An unusual pieced border, with two corners cut out to fit a four-poster bed, frames the center of the quilt. The white space between the borders is graced with exceptional quilting, including large flowers and undulating grapevines. Compare this to nearly identical quilting found in the elegant basket quilt made in the 1820-1840 period (2006.003.0004).

Medallion 
Attributed to Jane Knox Bitzel
Probably made in Tarrytown, Maryland, 1820-1840
103.5” x 103.5”
Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection
IQSC 2008.040.0003

Jane Knox Bitzel of Tarrytown, Maryland, used quilting and stuffed work to create a dimensional design of a large flower-filled vase in the center of her quilt. She used different appliqué techniques to stitch the chintz fabrics in place. The wreath is composed of individual pieces held in place with tiny buttonhole stitches. The outer border made of a long strip of chintz yardage has been carefully matched in each corner and appliquéd in place with a nearly invisible blind stitch. 

Medallion 
Maker unknown
Possibly made in Ohio, 1820-1840
93.5” x 89.5”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 1997.007.0253

Exotic birds, such as those perched on the branches of the various motifs featured in this quilt, were popular in chintz appliqué quilts. Sources like Robert Sayer’s A New Book of Birds, published in London in 1765, likely inspired the designs. 
Most of the leaves of this chintz fabric appear to be blue. This is likely due to the loss of yellow dye, which had been applied over the blue color to produce green. Natural yellow dyes were notoriously fugitive, or prone to fading, when exposed to light or laundering, In this case, it seems that the yellow dye has completely disappeared, leaving only the blue dye intact.

Star of Bethlehem
Maker unknown
Probably made in Southeastern United States, 1820-1840
102” x 103”
Ardis and Robert James Collection
IQSC 1997.007.0369

Chintz appliqué combined with pieced patterns, such as the Star of Bethlehem or Rising Star, was popular during the 1820s and 1830s. In this pristine example, the bright blue, yellow, and pink calicoes in the large star pattern seem to pulse with energy. The colors are repeated in the sprays of flowers that fill the white space between the “arms” of the star and the wide outer border. Both triangular borders are cut from long strips of calico yardage and are appliquéd in place, rather than pieced as one might expect.

Album
Made by members of the Evangelical Sewing Society of First Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
dated 1846
91” x 84”
Byron and Sara Rhodes Dillow Collection
IQSC 2008.040.0004

This album quilt was made to commemorate the service of Ann Rhees, a prominent member of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, in 1846. The inscription in the center block reads, “Presented to Mrs. Ann Rhees by the Ladies of the Sewing Circle and other attached relatives and friends.” Rhees, who was widowed only a few years after her marriage to Reverend Morgan Rhees, continued the work of her husband, who was an early proponent of the Sunday School movement. 
Ann Rhees was the daughter of Major Benjamin Loxley, an American patriot and friend of Benjamin Franklin. According to family lore, Benjamin Franklin acquired the key used in his kite and electricity experiment from the Loxley’s home

Works in the Exhibition
This exhibition was made possible with support from the Nebraska Arts Council and Nebraska Cultural Endowment and Friends of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum.
Event Date
Saturday, November 22, 2008 to Sunday, May 17, 2009