Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Coverlet

Maker:
Absalom Klinger
Date:
1846
Geography:
Made in Millersburg, Pennsylvania, United States
Culture:
American
Medium:
Cotton warp, cotton and wool weft, woven
Dimensions:
92 1/2 x 89 1/2 in. (235 x 227.3 cm)
Classification:
Textiles
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. James J. Rorimer, 1989
Accession Number:
1989.264.1
Not on view
This coverlet is woven in one wide panel. The field is decorated with quadrupled urns, and the left and right borders show bowls of fruit. The piece is striped with bands of medium blue, dark blue, and red wool. The undyed cotton warp threads alternate with light blue cotton tie-down threads. The piece is fringed on three sides; the two side fringes are natural, and the fringe along the bottom is attached.
Bold patterning and intense colors are characteristic of Pennsylvania Jacquard coverlets such as this work and others in the Museum’s collection (14.22.1; 2014.693.3). Unlike the British carpet weavers who immigrated to New York and began to weave coverlets, the German weavers who settled in the southeastern portion of Pennsylvania were professional linen weavers. In addition to bed coverings, their wares included sheets, pillowcases, and towels. The earliest known examples of Pennsylvania German linens and blankets are brightly colored and patterned with stripes, checks, and plaids, in accordance with the traditions brought over from Germany.

A number of differences distinguish coverlets made in Pennsylvania from those made in the neighboring states of New York and New Jersey. While the New York coverlets are usually "free" double cloth, in which the two layers of fabric are woven together only at spaced intervals, Pennsylvania weavers adopted a technique called tied Biederwand (sometimes they also used a plain Biederwand weave), which produces a doublecloth fabric in which the two layers are completely tied together in the weave, forming what seems to be a single layer of fabric. This technique is similar to damask weaving, which was undoubtedly familiar to weavers who made a portion of their living by producing table linens. It is this tied Biederwand weave that gives the background of Pennsylvania coverlets their distinctive vertically ribbed appearance. The most immediately noticeable difference between Pennsylvania coverlets and those made in New York and New Jersey is the Pennsylvania weavers' delightful use of many different colored wools in a single coverlet. While some of the more staid examples were woven in only two colors, most often either in red and white or in blue and white and less often in combinations like this blue and red example, the majority of Pennsylvania coverlets are striped with at least three colors of wool. Some are known that were woven with as many as five variously colored wools. Traditional motifs such as stylized pairs of birds flanking a bush, tulips, and vases of flowers, all of which are typical in German folk art, also set these coverlets apart. Finally, while New York coverlets are usually totally without fringe and those from New Jersey often have fringe only at the foot of the piece, Pennsylvania coverlets have fringe on three sides, with only the head end left plain.

This coverlet is a somewhat atypical example of the Pennsylvania Jacquard type. It was woven in 1846 by Absalom Klinger (1817-1901). Klinger was born in Pennsylvania and learned to weave from Daniel Bordner of Millersburg (now Bethel) in Berks County. It appears that he numbered all of his coverlets: The earliest known example is number 1,499, which was woven in 1843, and the latest is 2,003, made in 1855. Klinger's numbering system gives insight into the total output of coverlets a successful weaver might produce per year and per career. If Klinger continued to weave until about 1870, when the fashion for woven coverlets finally came to an end in Pennsylvania, he could have produced more than 2,600 coverlets in his lifetime. This example was woven in a single wide panel. Its swirling urn pattern illustrates the trend toward larger field motifs, which progressed during the 1840s. The stripes, in red and two shades of blue, do not relate all that well to the woven pattern, but the freshness of the colors and unusual design add great appeal to the coverlet.

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