Cheddar Quilts from the Joanna S. Rose Collection

Cheddar Quilts from the Joanna S. Rose Collection

"I am not a collector. I am a treasure hunter. A collector always wants to better a collection. I buy only what I like and for no other reason. Quilts look better when you have a lot of them."

New Yorker Joanna S. Rose began buying quilts in the 1950s. She enjoyed the hunt for quilt treasures, and searched for bargains at flea markets and antique stores. Rose started buying orange quilts—colloquially known as "cheddar quilts"—as décor for Thanksgiving, her favorite holiday. Her main interest was the expressive potential of color, which “can evoke emotion without representing anything.” To Rose, "bright orange has a warmth that transcends the literal warmth of a quilt."

Rose continued to buy quilts, selecting whatever caught her eye. She did not know how many she owned until planning Red & White Quilts: Infinite Variety, a 2011 exhibition at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. It turned out that she owned more than 650 red and white quilts alone. Today Rose’s collection contains more than 1,500 quilts.

About the Collector

About the Collector
About the Collector

Joanna S. Rose is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, and an honorary fellow of St. Hilda’s College, Oxford University. She served on the boards of the literary journal Partisan Review and the groundbreaking children’s theater group, the Paper Bag Players.

Chrome Orange Dye

Chrome Orange Dye
Chrome Orange Dye

The yellow-orange color found in pre-1880s “cheddar” quilts was produced with chrome orange, a mineral dye derived from crocoite, a hard, metallic element. Chromium, a by-produce of crocoite, was identified as a dye source by the French chemist Louis N. Vauquelin in 1797. Chrome orange was introduced as a pigment in 1809, and became popular in the 1820s, following the discovery of chromium deposits in Britain, France, and the United States. 

Mineral dyes like chromium, also known as pigment dyes, were mixed with a binding agent, applied directly to the surface of a fabric, and then heat-set. The process was simpler and less costly than vat-dyeing, which required submerging fabric in a dyebath. In addition to a more efficient method, mineral dyes produced brighter, more colorfast hues than organic dyes extracted from plant or animal sources.

The discovery, in the late 1850s, of pigments produced from coal-tar products—most famously, mauve—introduced the aniline or synthetic dyes that supplanted mineral dyes. Synthetic dyes were cheaper, more consistent, and safer, and by 1900, virtually all dyed or printed fabrics were produced using synthetic pigments. 

"Cheddar" Quilts

"Cheddar" Quilts
"Cheddar" Quilts

The distinctive yellow-orange color now known as “cheddar” first appeared in the U.S. in Pennsylvania German album quilts. These grid-like designs were composed of different blocks featuring appliquéd floral motifs in reds and greens, with orange accents.

Pieced, repeat-block designs overtook the appliqué style in the decades following the Civil War, and orange dominated pieced patterns like Irish Chain, Drunkard’s Path, and Log Cabin. In the 1880s and 1890s—the heyday of cheddar quilts—orange was a common element in two- and three-color quilts, where it was often combined with analogous reds and yellows, and complementary blues and greens.

The popularity of orange quilts persisted in the twentieth century. Common patterns of the 1920s and 1930s—Double Wedding Ring, Grandmother’s Flower Garden, Dresden Plate—were rendered in palettes that included orange fabrics produced from the superior German dye recipes that were introduced to the U.S. as war reparations after World War I

Pennsylvania German Folk Art

Pennsylvania German Folk Art
Pennsylvania German Folk Art

In the early 1800s, German immigrants from Switzerland, and the Palatine and Upper Rhine regions of Germany represented a majority of southeastern Pennsylvania’s population. Along with the Germans who settled in Virginia and North Carolina, these immigrants incorporated the bright colors and bold designs of their traditional folk arts into their quilts.

The households of these new Americans contained many items decorated with a visual vocabulary transplanted from home. Wedding chests, ceramics, and commemorative certificates were typically painted with symmetrical, nature-inspired motifs. Samplers and household linens were embroidered with similar pictorial elements. As Pennsylvania Germans became politically active, they decorated their domestic objects with patriotic emblems like stars and eagles. 

In the 1840s, the designs found on Pennsylvania German furniture, linens, and documents were adapted and incorporated into appliqué album quilts. These early cheddar quilts, typified by a particular folk art aesthetic, and color schemes of reds, oranges, and greens, became popular across the east coast region, and throughout the western states of Ohio and Indiana.

Selections from the Exhibition

Selections from the Exhibition

Feathered Star (with Blazing Sun)
Maker Unidentified 
1880-1900
Probably southern United States
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Basket
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted, machine-appliquéd

Eight-Pointed Star
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Eight-Pointed Star
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Sunburst
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania or southern United States
Machine-pieced, hand-quilted

Four Ts
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Machine-pieced, hand-quilted

The Lily
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Snail’s Trail
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Machine-pieced, hand-quilted

Irish Chain
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Basket
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted, hand appliqué

Trip Around the World
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Machine-pieced, hand-quilted

Rising Sun or Circle Saw
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably Southern United States
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Irish Chain
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Maryland or Ohio
Machine-pieced, hand-quilted

Star and Tumbling Block
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Star of Bethlehem
Maker Unidentified
1850 - 1870
Probably made in Maryland or Ohio
Hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Wild Goose Chase variation
Maker Unidentified
1880-1900
Probably made in Pennsylvania
Hand-pieced, hand-appliquéd

Selections from the Exhibition
This exhibition was organized by Dr. Carolyn Ducey, Curator of Collections at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. Our sincere gratitude to Joanna S. Rose, for lending her quilts, and to Barbara Brackman, Xenia Cord, Barb Garrett, and Julie Silber for contributing their knowledge of quilt history. Support for this exhibition has been provided by Friends of International Quilt Study Center & Museum and Nebraska State Quilt Guild. This exhibition was made possible through funding from the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. The Nebraska Arts Council, a state agency, has supported this exhibition through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Visit www.nebraskaartscouncil.org for more information.
Event Date
Friday, October 5, 2018 to Sunday, February 3, 2019