So now and then we should turn from the clamorous present, and go back in thought to that quiet past where the roots of our being lie. There, is many a Half-Way House on the road; one of them might be called, “At the Sign of the Coverlet;” and pausing here we may recover certain lost things unknown to us or unremembered, but well deserving both knowledge and remembrance.
~Eliza Calvert Hall, A book of Handwoven Coverlets, 1912
YAY! After many more hours immersed in Photoshop and up to my tuckus in .html coding, the modern interpretations of the historic coverlet collection are up on the PPWG website. You can view them here under “Quick Links.” They are in their own gallery, are linked to their historic counterparts, and the historic coverlets each have a link back to the modern interps. Whew! Naturally, I’m thrilled to have my contribution to the project finished. Why? Well, natch! Because I can now get back to my looms!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . to commemorate for myself, this project that has become so dear to my heart as a weaver, I began a search to find my very own historic coverlet. The appreciation that I have gained for the place in our country’s history (think Civil War era), for the amount of time and the processes that were required by the weavers (think a year from start to finish for most non commercial weavers) and the love and care with which most of these “coverlids” were created, prompted me to want to have one of my very own.
And now I do! It will be arriving sometime in the next week. It was found in an old cedar trunk in Wayne County, Indiana (famous for its coverlet weavers) and is in excellent condition. It’s stucture is doubleweave, it has a pine tree border (one of my all time favorites) and without doing reasearch yet, I’m calling the main pattern “bird’s nest” which resembles a variation on the old Lovers Knot. The various patterns have different names depending on the region at which they were woven. But, I will need to do a little more sleuthing. It has a hand sewn center seam which is very typical of the era, and the warp is linen, the weft wool. I will know more about the dye after I see it in person. These coverlets were most often woven in two panels as there were few if any “broad looms” available at the time, so the weaver was limited by the width of the loom. An interesting tidbit, is that in the South, to match the center seams exactly was considered ‘bad luck.’ (I’m thinking that that was a bit of blarney put forth by the old Irish weavers down there who needed to put a good spin on a badly matched set of panels. . .).
The weavers (at home) used to spend months growing the flax, retting it, spinning it into linen, carding the wool, spinning, and dying. Then she would either weave it up herself in the winter months — or send it off to a professional weaver who might charge somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10 dollars to weave it up. A more well to do family might have the weaver come stay with them and weave up other linens as well as a figured and fancy (jacquard) coverlet.
While I appreciate the figured and fancy coverlets, for myself I wanted a geometric, preferably with a pine tree border (my own home is surrounded by pine trees). And there it was . . . pretty as you please. And speaking of pretty, you will note that it has a dark (winter) side, and a light (summer) side. These old coverlets were also pretty heavy (this one weighs close to 9 pounds). This was not just a practical matter for warmth, but its weight also allowed for a smooth look on a well made bed. Under the coverlet was often a stuffed mattress, some type of sheeting, then a feather bed or other sack stuffed with warm material. The coverlet’s weight, helped smooth out the look.
Now for the part that just chaps my saddle (as they say where I grew up). One of the trendy things in crafts these days is to buy up these old coverlets and CUT THEM UP into pieces and then sell the pieces at a profit to crafters to become Christmas stockings, etc. (Thanks, Martha Stewart . . . grr). Now, I am not against taking a quilt or coverlet that is in tatters and salvaging it by creating something else from it. But to take these historic textiles (that are in good shape) and cut them up just makes me want to shriek. OK — rant over. Although, I have heard stories of coverlets being cut into pieces and each piece given to a daughter upon the death of their mother.
The history of the American coverlet is so deep and rich, that what I used to think of as “old fashioned, colonial, granny stuff,” has now become a passion of mine. Whodda’ thunk?
Weave like it doesn’t matter if it takes a year from start to finish . . .
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