Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Wholecloth quilt

ca. 1830
Possibly made in England; Possibly made in United States
American or British
81 3/4 x 90 1/2 in. (207.6 x 229.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harcourt Amory, 1963
Accession Number:
Not on view
This chintz quilt is notched at its bottom corners to accommodate bedposts. The quill is bound with cotton tape striped in tan, white, black, and blue. The chintz top fabric is decorated with floral trails, roller printed in red and block overprinted in blue, yellow, and green on a tan ground. The backing chintz has a flora/ stripe, roller printed in red and brown. The piece is quilted overall with a shell pattern.
Although they are often ignored by pieced-quilt admirers, wholecloth quilts can be important documents of tastes in home furnishing fabrics during various periods, since they incorporate complete lengths of fabric. In addition, the absence of appliquéd or pieced surface patterning sometimes encouraged makers to embellish their quilts with more intricate quilting patterns. This wholecloth quilt, constructed with a different cotton chintz on each side, falls into the first category. The top, an English fabric manufactured in about 1835, is in a floral trail design, roller-printed in red on a tan blotch ground. The blue, yellow, and green areas are surface-printed with blocks. The fabric on the reverse side, also English, of about 1830, is in a floral stripe pattern of lilies, poppies, roses, geraniums, and passionflowers, roller-printed in red and black (now faded to brown) on what Florence Montgomery, in her authoritative book, "Printed Textiles," called a "fancy machine ground." Toward the bottom of the quilt's back, there is a small patch of the same floral stripe pattern that is surface-printed with yellow and blue dyes. These dyes have turned the lilies from red to orange and the leaves from black to green. The patch is an example of how manufacturers changed the appearance of the same basic roller-printed fabric in order to give the consumer a variety of choices at little extra cost to the manufacturer.
Purchasing enough fabric to make a quilt such as this one was probably a considerable investment when compared to the cost of using leftover pieces of furnishing fabrics such as those in our Strip quilts (1971.180.125; 1990.40.1). It is possible that this wholecloth quilt was made to be part of an entire set of matching chintz bed and window hangings. Although this coverlet came to us with no provenance, recent research into quilts with cutout foot corners like this one (commonly referred to as "T-shaped" quilts) has proved that they were most frequently made in New England. The cutout corners were a clever way to have the lower edge of the quilt fit easily around the foot posts of the bed and hang straight down over the bed’s sides and foot, rather than having to be tucked under the mattress or awkwardly gathered up.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
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