Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Embroidered quilt

ca. 1775
Possibly made in Rye, New York, United States; Possibly made in Cos Cob, Connecticut, United States
Linen embroidered with wool, cotton border
84 3/4 x 78 in. (215.3 x 198.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Gift of George Coe Graves by exchange, Gift of Harry Arons by exchange, Gift of Erving and Joyce Wolf by exchange, Rogers Fund by exchange, 2000
Accession Number:
Not on view
In the years before the American Revolution, when this quilt was made, both Connecticut and New York were well-established as separate colonies. However, to the people living in the neighboring towns of Greenwich, Connecticut and Rye, New York, on the coast of the Long Island Sound, the border between the two colonies was more or less permeable. At different moments during the preceding century, this area was either part of the territory of New Amsterdam, (later New York) or New England. No matter what the area’s momentary allegiance, what was probably more important at the time to the young woman named Mildred who embroidered her name, the date, and the location of "Cos Cob—Rhy" on the quilt, was that Rye, New York and Greenwich, Connecticut (which encompasses the area around Cos Cob Harbor) were adjoining towns. In fact, Rye was founded in 1660 by settlers from Greenwich, and members of the same extended families lived in both towns. Cos Cob Harbor, the area to which Mildred referred, was Greenwich’s primary shipping port, where local farm produce was loaded aboard boats bound for New York City some thirty miles away. The area around the busy harbor was settled beginning in the early eighteenth-century—it is probable that Mildred’s family had a house there. Perhaps family members also owned property in Rye, and Mildred traveled between the two towns. Another reason for both towns being mentioned in the inscription could be that Mildred married a man from Rye, starting her embroidery work in one place, finishing it in another. Unfortunately, exactly why Mildred decided to sign her work with both place names will never be known for certain, but considering how unusual it is to have a place named on any eighteenth-century piece of crewel embroidery, we are very grateful for Mildred’s pride in her home towns.
Not only was this piece likely made in two places, but it was also made at two different times. The central area of the quilt, made up of three large embroidered panels and several small partial pieces of embroidery, was completed in 1753. Different size floral sprigs are embroidered using crewel wools in chain stitch on a fine linen ground fabric. The fact that the embroidery is done entirely in chain stitch is quite unusual—other similar crewel embroidered bedcovers in our collection use a variety of stitches, such as economy, stem, satin, and darning stitches. This could be an indicator of a style preference in the area around Greenwich or Mildred’s limited knowledge of the range of fancy embroidery stitches. The three large panels (two at the bottom, one in the center of the upper area) are all about the same size, between 36 and 38 inches high and about 31 inches wide (91.4/96.5 x 78.7 cm). Two bottom panels are embroidered as mirror images of each other; the upper panel shows a different floral composition. Two mirror-image panels flank the large upper panel, and it is within these two narrow panels (each about 13 in., or 33 cm wide) that the inscription appears, cross-stitched in beige silk. Clearly reversed from its original format, the inscription reads "COS COB-RHY/ 53" on the left narrow panel and "MILDRED/ 17" on the right narrow panel. It would make far more sense if Mildred had inscribed her work so that it read: "MILDRED/ COS COB-RHY/ 17/ 53," and it is likely that this was once the case. The embroidered panels that make up the quilt once had another use; although they could have been curtain or bed-hanging panels (see 22.55 and 61.48.2), because of their size, it seems more likely that they once were stitched together into the skirt made by Mildred in 1753.
By the later decades of the eighteenth century, Mildred’s embroidered skirt may have seemed old-fashioned, or maybe it simply no longer fit her. It is also possible that it had been passed down to another female member of the family. But judging by the style of the printed fabric in the border, some years later, probably around 1780, someone took the skirt apart and re-attached the pieces in the current lay-out, not noticing the correct order of the light-colored inscription. This person then added newly purchased border fabric, a cotton printed with a small floral vine arranged in a diaper pattern. Without adding a layer of batting, she quilted the new top to a backing of heavier-weight plain-weave linen with blue linen thread in an overall chevron pattern. Whenever her quilting stitches encountered an embroidered motif, she skipped under it, resuming her stitches on the other side of the sprig.
Even though it is several decades newer, the printed border fabric shows more significant wear than the embroidered area does. This is because it was printed with both red and brown ink, and the brown ink that outlined the center flower within each small diaper contained an iron mordant that has oxidized and eaten away at the fabric, leaving small holes throughout.
[Peck 2015; adapted from Amelia Peck, "American Quilts & Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," 2007]
Inscription: COS COB RHY/ 53/ MILDRED/ 17
Bought by Kate and Joel Kopp at auction at Sotheby's New York, June 26, 1987, "Fine American Furniture, Folk Art and Folk Paintings," Sale #5599, Lot 72. Sold for $44,000.00. The Kopps kept it until offering it to us in December 1999.
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