Redwork Quilt Top

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Quilt top only.

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Quilt top only. Over a hundred blocks of natural cotton, embroidered in red with scenes of everyday life and objects. Each block (6½ in wide) is joined with red sashing. This plain red fabric is used for the border (6 in wide), which has a floral design embroidered in white thread.

Redwork became popular during the second half of the nineteenth century. The development of a colourfast red dye (known as ‘Turkey red’) and the low cost of cotton led to a boom in the number of red and white quilts being made. Inexpensive materials meant that those with less money could engage in this hobby. Even people not accomplished at drawing could undertake redwork, because ‘penny squares’ – with pictures already printed on them – were sold in stores for a penny a piece.

It is doubtful that the blocks in this piece quilt were made from penny squares. The pictures have a rough (but jocular) quality about them, which contrasts with the neatness of the stitching. The even nature of the small stitches suggests that the blocks and border were all embroidered by the same hand. The design in the border is more assured and was perhaps copied from a template.

This fascinating object juxtaposes domestic scenes with those of a military and patriotic nature (including a portrait of George Washington). One block shows what appears to be a man riding a penny-farthing backwards. This is, however, probably a depiction of the ‘American Star’ two-wheeler. Produced by the Smith Machine Company in 1881, this bicycle had a large wheel at the back of the vehicle and a small wheel at the front.

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From 1881 (after) to 1899

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» cotton (textile)


» embroidering
» sewing (needleworking technique)

Production place

» Pennsylvania



Object number


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