Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Wholecloth whitework quilt

Date:
ca. 1815
Geography:
Probably made in Colchester, Connecticut, United States
Culture:
American
Medium:
Cotton
Dimensions:
102 3/4 x 103 in. (261 x 261.6 cm)
Classification:
Textiles
Credit Line:
Bequest of Flora E. Whiting, 1971
Accession Number:
1971.180.124
Not on view
The top of this white cotton quilt is of a tightly woven white cotton. There are two layers of backing, a very coarsely woven layer and a less coarse show layer. The edge is bound with cotton twill tape. The piece is patterned with a central basket of flowers surrounded by four different ornate borders. The quilting is extremely fine; the patterned areas have been stuffed for stronger definition.
Stuffed, embroidered, and woven versions of all-white bedcovers were popular during the first third of the nineteenth century. Stuffed whitework quilts such as this one were often made to be included in a bride's wedding outfit. They were particularly prized, possibly because of the sheer amount of labor that went into them. After joining the top and back layers, a young woman outlined the edges of each flower petal or leaf with tiny stitches. Then, she carefully opened spaces in the backing by pushing aside the woven threads of the cloth with her needle. After a tiny area was opened, she inserted small bits of cotton stuffing between the top and back layers in order to produce the raised areas of the design. When an area was stuffed to her satisfaction, the backing fabric was closed by pushing the threads back to their original position. Then a final tightly woven layer of backing was stitched to the quilt. This quilt, which is one of the most beautiful of all the whitework pieces in our collection, must have taken a great deal of time to complete.

The quilt came to us with no provenance. While researching it, we noticed a whitework quilt published in Carleton Safford and Robert Bishop's 1972 book "America's Quilts and Coverlets" that seemed to be almost identical to our piece. It is owned by the Stamford Historical Society in Connecticut. According to the Society's records, that quilt was made by Lucy Foot Bradford (1800?-1875) while she was a young woman living in Colchester, Connecticut. After comparing the two quilts face-to-face, it became apparent that, although they were not made by the same person, they originated from a very similar pattern. Patterns, either homemade or professionally printed, were available at the time for this type of fancywork. The similarities were so great that it seemed conclusive that the two pieces had both been made in Colchester, possibly under the tutelage of the same person. Lucy Foot and the maker of our quilt could have taken sewing lessons from the same private needlework teacher, or they could have gone to the same school. A well-known school in Colchester, called Bacon Academy, had been established in 1802 to provide free education to all the children of the town. Regardless of whether this person taught at Bacon Academy or privately, as later evidence turned up, it became clear that there must have been one influential sewing teacher in Colchester during the period between about 1810 and 1820. The confirming evidence came when we found a stuffed whitework dressing-table cover in the Museum's own collection that is clearly similar to the two quilts in both technique and design (44.45). We were pleased to find that it was made by Sarah Clark of Colchester, Connecticut. Clark was born on March 1, 1796, and died on December 7, 1865. She was married to Eziehiel Williams Parsons, M.D., and she probably made the dressing-table cover when she was a teenager, to carry with her to her husband's house when she married. Although Clark was four years older than Lucy Foot, their teen years coincide closely enough to seem to confirm that our quilt was also made in Colchester at about the same time.

[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
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