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Story of Red and White Quilts posted: 7/6/2003
by Ann Hazelwood Printable Page
Category: History Method: All
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So, why all the love and passion of these two really bold, unique colors that go so beautifully together? The answer is evident when each color is examined throughout history.

Red is victorious, passionate, and strong. It is the color of romance for Valentines Day and the festive color of Christmas. It's the color of blood, which sustains us.

White is innocent and white as snow. It is the color of weddings in the Western World, and Christening gowns, that bless our entry into this world. It is clear and uncomplicated, begging to contrast with a dramatic color.

Red and white have been a combination of colors that quiltmakers and needlework fans have gravitated to for generations.

"Turkey Red," a dye process term, developed in the country of Turkey. The "Turkey Red" century was 1830-1930. "Turkey Red" was never made in the U.S., because it was a very complicated process. This red helped make the Turkish rugs very desirable as well. Barbara Brackman, a quilt historian, said "Turkey Red" was a 19th century classic! By the 1920's, it was considered "old fashioned." By 1928, at least 100 synthetic reds were available. These later reds, while colorfast, had a characteristic orange or "tomato red" color, unlike the bluer, rich cherry red. In 1925, Sears Roebuck Catalog outlined the "Turkey Reds" esthetic virtues. They said all women who make patchwork quilts know this to be good cloth. Some price-motivated manufacturers however misrepresented the red color, and used a "Congo Red," which faded quickly.

Snowy, white bleached muslin prevailed as cotton fabric developed in quality. The domestic unbleached muslin was used more for a more economical purpose.

Red and green quilts dominated the mid 19th Century. The fugitive greens were very unreliable; therefore leaving the green out of the quilt became more and more popular.

The "Turkey Red" wore off in time and use, because only the outer shaft of the thread was dyed. A true test of real "Turkey Red" is to see those high relief areas worn in an antique quilt.

In 1880, cotton floss became dye fast and what fun developed! From 1860 through the Depression years, "Penny Squares" were produced to embroider in red. For one penny, you could purchase an 8-10 inch square of muslin with a design printed on it to stitch. Some general stores would allow you to choose a design, and they would put it on your fabric. These blocks were ideal for children to learn their embroidery skills. The most elaborately designed blocks encouraged redwork quilts to abound! Stitching all in one color with dye fast results, were a plus, and thus the popularity began. Lovely household items like pillow shams, splashers, and towels were great redwork accessories that magazines like "Harper's Bazaar" and "The Ladies Art Company" offered as patterns.

Red and white quilts present very graphic designs. The most frequent patterns used were the "Double Wedding Ring," "Irish Chain," "Feathered Star," and "Nine Patch." The peek in time for these two color quilts was 1880-1930. In the mid 1990's, a resurgence of red and white interest spread across the country. After the blues and mauves of the 1980's, red was welcomed into homes in small doses. Men responded to it's beauty, for it was a much more masculine demur!

Design Originals and the Schroeder Publishing were some of the first publishers to capitalize on this resurgence. "Willa Bee" Pattern Company was the pioneer designer to reproduce those early designs, and the embroidery enthusiasts responded. "Baby Boomers" who did not learn to embroidery as a child, discovered they could accomplish this affordable craft and they loved it.

In 1999, a Red and White Quilt Show was held in St. Charles, Missouri. It's displays, not only featured quilts, but red and white handkerchiefs, feedsacks, linens, buttons, dolls, aprons and kitchen ware. Red and White Clubs now are a regular activity at many Quilt Shops across the country. The story of 'Red and White" continued into the 21st Century. In December of 2002, a Red and White Quilt exhibit at the prestigious American Quilting Society Museum in Paducah, Kentucky.

Not all has been said, about the color of RED
It is a beautiful sight, especially with WHITE!

2003 Ann Watkins Hazelwood

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