Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Quilt, calamanco

ca. 1775–1800
Made in New England, United States
87 x 92 in. (221 x 233.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Gift of Joan G. Hancock, in memory of Frances Burrall Henry, by exchange, 1998
Accession Number:
Not on view
The top of this quilt, as well as four others in our collection (58.41; 45.107; 62.26; 1980.454) are made from calimanco, a glazed all-wool fabric. For many years, calimanco quilts were mistakenly called "linsey-woolsey" quilts. A cloth usually woven in the home, linsey-woolsey has a linen warp and a woolen weft and was used primarily for clothing. It is not clear why calimanco quilts were so often referred to as linsey-woolseys by collectors and quilt historians during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Calimanco was a professionally manufactured product that, in its fancier guises, was also most often used for clothing. During the eighteenth century, English calimanco was available that was patterned with multiple colors, stripes, flowers, or brocades.
Most calimanco quilts found in the United States are generally quite similar to another quilt in the Museum’s collection (58.41), in that it has a single-colored, plain-weave top, decorated solely by quilting. This pieced Calimanco quilt, however, is a more unusual example. It features a bright red central area and a border, once dark blue, which has faded to a greenish color. The border fabric has been woven with a subtle stripe. The central red panel, which retains much of its original glaze, is further enhanced by the border’s quilting of a tight half feather where the green fabric meets the red. The red area is quilted with a somewhat crude pattern of flowers and leaves, with diagonal rows of quilting in between the motifs. The designs are stitched with dark-blue wool thread in the border and yellow wool thread in the red center. The quilt’s edges are bound with a green handwoven wool herringbone twill tape.
Like other examples in the museum’s collection and elsewhere, this quilt has a backing fabric that has been dyed a golden ocher color. Quilt scholar Lynne Z. Bassett has pointed out that a yellow color was actually specified by household advice expert Lydia Maria Child in her book "The American Frugal Housewife" (Boston, 1829) for "linings of bed-quilts, comforters, &c." Yellow dye was inexpensive and easily obtained, and the ocher color presumably hid dirt and bedroom stains better, and faded less than other colors.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
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