Wholecloth quilt, Cotton, American

Wholecloth quilt

ca. 1886
Made in New England, United States
88 3/4 x 85 1/4 in. (225.4 x 216.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Alfred Reginald Allen, 1986
Accession Number:
Not on view
Both the front and back of this whole-cloth quilt are constructed of four panels of fabric, which are stitched together by sewing machine. Three of the panels are approximately twenty-four inches wide each, and the partial last panel is eleven inches wide. The front is printed with a trompe-l'oeil patchwork in red, browns, and pink and shows scenes from Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado. The back is printed with a trompe-l'oeIl Crazy patchwork illustrating the yadils in the 1886 America's Cup race. The quilt is knotted through the two fabric layers and the cotton batting with heavy white cotton thread in eight-inch intervals; the knots are at the corners of the diamond-shaped "blocks" in the Mikado pattern.
Cotton fabrics printed with imitation patchwork were manufactured in America from around the time of the Centennial in 1876 through the end of the 1880s. The designs on the front and back of this work are among the more amusing prints of this type. The print on the back, in imitation Crazy patchwork, illustrates the yachts that raced in the 1886 America's Cup; it has yet to be assigned to a specific printworks. The Mikado print on the front, however, can be documented to an important American printworks. The Museum of American Textile History in Massachusetts was able to identify it in the archives the museum owns from the Cocheco Print Works of Dover, New Hampshire; there is both an engraver's sheet and a sample of the Mikado print, identified as style no. 3286 and dated January 1886. The Cocheco Print Works specialized in bright, inexpensive, and novel printed cottons for the working- and middle-class markets. While the trendsetters of the Aesthetic movement were seriously considering the influence of Japanese design on Western art, the general public was delighting in Gilbert and Sullivan's 1885 comic operetta, "The Mikado." Its fame must have spread quickly, because the Cocheco designers' Mikado print fabric was ready within months of the operetta's London debut.
The layers of this simple quilt are attached in the most elementary way. In the manner of many Crazy quilts that have actually been pieced, this work's cotton top, back, and batting are tied through with cotton threads, in this case at the interstices of each "block" on the Mikado side. This carefully placed tying probably means that the Mikado side was originally meant to be the top of the quilt, but the America's Cup side is much more faded and light-bleached, indicating that it lay face up for a long time.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
Inscription: inscribed on front: [various descriptive sentences about "Mikado" scenes]; inscribed on the back: [names of the yachts]