Thursday, December 2, 2010

Red and Green - Part 1

Red and Green quilts are especially enchanting this time of year 
because they lend themselves so well to holiday decorating. Here are a few I have seen in on-line auctions over the years of my tracing and studying since I got on-line. This first is probably the most unusual in the lot.

eBay dealer gb-best - 2007

This was no shy quiltmaker! More on names on quilts later.
Click here to learn more about above quilt.

Positively sparkles!

Dated 1852 and signed Elizabeth Clendening
Click here to learn more about above quilt.

Love the viney border!

Simplicity itself!

Combining two traditional patterns = Tumbling Stars

Red and Green "rescue" Quilts

I love to stumble across "rescue" quilts. It makes my quilt budet go farther thus allowing me a greater variety for study and teaching purposes. Here are a couple of my Red and Green "rescue" quilts that I bring out this time of year.

An Indiana Princess Feather...
or is it...
Prince's Feather?

This was once a fabulous Princess Feather with very fine quilting.
If use is a sign of love, it has been well loved.

Where does the name Princess Feather originate? 

Very good question and one quilt historians have debated for some time.

Barbara Brackman has a photo in her book "Clues in the Calico" of one of the earliest variations of this pattern that I am aware of.  This particular quilt is in the Helen F. Spencer Museum of Art and is dated 1818 in cross-stitch on the quilt, always very helpful in establishing the emergence and evolution of a particular pattern.

Although this dated 1818 quilt is listed as a Princess Feather, I see a much greater similarity to the Prince's Feather-Polygonum orientale plant than a plumed feather as later variations of the pattern would take.

Click here to take a peak at the various plants that could have inspired this pattern...or at least its name! This website has quilt photos interspersed with the photos of the plants!  Here is one titled "Love-lies-bleeding". Do you think that would be melodramatic enough for a mid-19th century young woman?

 Now take a look again at the detailed close-ups of the 1818 quilt by Mary Somerville at the Spencer Museum website.  Here is one of the central medallion but the website has even closer details of the foliage around the central figure. To my eye, this particular quilt is about plants, not feathers. Did Mary Somerville name the quilt herself or was it named by a later generation?

Gift of Dorothy Jewell Sanders to KU Spencer Museum of Art

The Evolution of a Pattern

It's interesting to see the evolution and variation of this pattern thru the years. After 1850 it seems to be rendered in red and green on a plain muslin ground the majority of the time, with occasional accents of orange, yellow or blue of some kind.

from Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique available thru C&T Publishing

Here is an 1873 variation; and a link to another that looks a little more like mine but is still unique. Here is still another variation where the feathers are made to look more like a string of hearts.

Some think it resembles the plumes royalty once wore on their hats and wonder if Queen Victoria influenced the popularity of the pattern.

Robin W. Doughty writes in Feather Fashions and Bird Preservation: A Study in Nature Protection, “With sentiment, exhibitionism, or a confusion of both prevailing, women donned feather trimmings in every decade of the last [19th] century, particularly after 1850. In this later period, every hat worn on the street could almost be counted upon to boast a pair of wings.”

When I discovered this photo of Victoria's mother, I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't she who started the earlier fad that led to the Princess Feather quilt pattern!

Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg

In fact, shortly after Queen Victoria’s accession to the English throne in 1837, bird of paradise and egret “ospreys” became popular. By 1875, the heads of English women boasted entire birds. In addition, it was believed that no lady was completely dressed without a fan of marabou, peafowl, pheasant or pigeon plumage mounted upon a tortoise-shell handle.

Brackman once mused aloud during a quilt dating workshop she was doing for TQHF in Marion, Indiana, if there might be some connection between the surge in popularity in this pattern after 1850 and the Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth's visit to the U.S. in that same decade.

Kossuth became an American darling in the 1850s and was supposedly famed for wearing a plumed hat. He was also apparently known to have caused many a woman to swoon.

Isn't Lillian Russell fabulous in her multi-plumed wonder? However, this photo was taken in 1898 so too late to inspire the surge in Princess Feather quilts in the 1850s. Could she have inspired the pattern to continue in polularity? Hmmm.

Or Mae West?

The American Textile Manufacturer commonly called the Textile Colorist began publishing in 1875 and its first issue contained remarks about ostrich feather dyeing. It was WWI that finally ended the overdose on ostrich feathers, although a growing outcry of bird preservationists had already begun by the 1880s.  To see an ostrich feather in order to compare it to the Princess Feather design, click here.

from Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique

In Stafford and Bishop's "America's Quilts and Coverlets" page 192 is a Princess Feather (below) from the Henry Ford Museum with a ca1810 date (fig. 283 not 286 as stated in the above drawing). This is a very familar pattern.

A little aside. On pg. 193 (fig. 287) of the same book is a  combination of a Princess Feather and the tulip dated ca1825 whose twin, I swear, appears on page 126 of "Fons & Porter Presents Quilts From the Henry Ford" with a suggested date of between 1860 and 1890. However, the the later quilt has some sprinkling of blue flowers wereas the earlier version has no blue at all.

So Who Has the Answers?

Click here to see it on eBay

There is rarely one absolute answer to the "beginning" date of a quilt design prior to the 1870s.  If we are lucky, we may stumble across a sketch or specific reference to a quilt design in a private letter or a personal diary in our research, but those are rare. Women's magazines were still too few to have much impact on quilt pattern designs until after the American Civil War (1861-1865).

from Brackman's Encyclopedia of Applique

However, we can certainly find plenty of possibilities for design influences even if we don't know who made the first quilt of a specific design, what she called it or why she made it.

Other Possible Design Influences

Could another possible source of resurgent interest in this pattern have come from woven Jacquard coverlets? In Stafford & Bishop's "America's Quilts and Coverlets" there are at last four woven coverlets that have the correct design elements of folage or plumes in them that very much resemble the Princess Feather design. However, these plumes are not assembled in the exact format as we see in the Princess Feather even though the potential design element is there.

The closest format in the woven coverlets to the Princess Feather design I've personally seen is of cocount trees!

This is one tiny segment (enlarged) of the upper third of a woven coverlet seen on page 248 (fig. 375) of Stafford and Bishop, also from the Henry Ford Museum. The pattern is called True Boston Town, c.1840, showing Boston harbor with its merchants ships ready to set sail for China. The upper portion of the design shows the Chinese town and the lower two-thirds of the design show Boston Harbor full of ships.

Getting back to the possible Kossuth influence. 

Kossuth was a colorful and handsome character to be sure. Here are some excerpts from Wikipedia about Kossuth:

From Britain he went to the United States of America: there his reception was equally enthusiastic, if less dignified. Henry David Thoreau commented that this excitement was due to superficial politicians joining Kossuth's political bandwagon. He was the second foreign citizen to make a speech to a joint session of Congress held in the old House chamber (National Statuary Hall), Lafayette being the first....

Having learnt English during an earlier political imprisonment with the aid of a volume of Shakespeare, his spoken English was 'wonderfully archaic' and theatrical. The Times, generally cool towards the revolutionaries of 1848 in general and Kossuth in particular, nevertheless reported that his speeches were 'clear' and that a three-hour talk was not unusual for him; and also, that if he was occasionally overcome by emotion when describing the defeat of Hungarian aspirations, 'it did not at all reduce his effectiveness'. 

Don't you think listening to a three hour speech in an un-airconditioned room in the 1850s would make any woman faint! Of course, if the speech was outside, it might have been another form of heat stroke that did the ladies in given the amount of clothing they had to wear at that time.

Unfortunately I could find no close-up photo of Kossuth in a plumed hat, but here is a link to a very short article on the history of the plumed hat.

Here is yours truly at Barbara Brackman's induction into The Quilters Hall of Fame in 2001. A little bird told me that a coterie of BB's friends were going to wear hats. This is one I found at an antique shop on my drive from  Virginia to Indiana.  This also happens to be my vision of the perfect Kossuth hat!

Comparing Princess Feather Patterns 

The Quilt Index and the International Quilt Study Center data bases offer the perfect vehicles for comparing and contrasting any quilt pattern.

I pulled up 137 examples of quilts named Princess Feather in the Quilt Index alone. It was interesting to note that Mary Schaffer had indicated on one of the Princess Feather quilts she reproduced that it was "adapted from an 18th century Virginia territory quilt currently housed at Mt. Vernon, VA."

Is anyone familiar with such a quilt at Mt. Vernon?  It would then mean the pattern dates back at least to the late 1700s as a quilt pattern! This is very exciting. I hope to track down this source through the quilt history community network.

And this brings me back to my own Indiana Princess Feather!

I found my Princess Feather "rescue" quilt quite unexpectedly in Gem, Indiana, in July 2002. Love the viney border! Click here to see another great viney border.

Gem is an unincorporated town in Sugar Creek Township, Hancock County, Indiana. I was on my way from Virginia to Marion, Indiana with my friend Hazel Carter via Columbus, Indiana where we had stopped to see a quilt exhibit and to enjoy the wonderful architecture in Columbus that this Indiana town is so well known for.

As we continued our drive north on a back contry road, I suddenly spied a sign that read "Gem" and a bell went off.  My Navy Signature quilt dated 1941-1942 has a number of signatures from Indiana, and one of those signatures has "Gem, Ind." written after it!  (You can read more about this Navy Signature Quilt now listed in the Quilt Index by clicking here.)

Until that moment, I did not know where Gem was in Indiana because I had yet to do research on that particular quilt. But, lo and behold, here I was in Gem, Indiana!

So, of course, I just had to buy this Red and Green "rescue" quilt (above) to commemorate the event!

PS: If you are looking for a Red and Green quilt for Santa to add to your own collection, take a peek at those that Rocky Mountain Quilts is currently selling!

More Red and Green in the next post as well!


Karen in the Islands

PS: If you think the name should be Prince's Feather instead and missed the earlier reference, check-out the Prince of Wales' heraldic shield by clicking here.


  1. Thank you, Jan, for taking a few minutes to visit! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. Just so love your blog Karen. Trying to be a follower but blogspot is letting me for some reason. Have just read about you on 5foot1quilts :-)
    All those quilts are just breath-taking

  3. Wow, what a fascinating post! Thank your for sharing all this info. You are a fabulous writer!

  4. I like the way the one quilt maker spelled out her name in fabric on the bottom.

  5. Thank you Cheryl. I'm so glad you stopped by to visit the blog and enjoyed it. I LOVE to research and write!!

    To Karen above, I am going to write more about names on quilts in another post. It is so very exciting to find them!

  6. Lynne, I am sorry you are having problems becoming a Follower on my blog. I don't know why that might be but I would love to be able to help you resolve it! Karen A.

  7. Hi Karen, Really enjoyed your post on Prince's/Princess feather. Detailed and informative and highly engaging... I visited via Bill's blog (Wonkyworld), now I look forward to reading your future posts!

  8. Thanks for stopping by to visit, Kate! Love Bill's New York Beauty collection!

  9. Thanx for the pictures, I have always assumed that the 'Princess Feathers' were - linguistically - a misrepresentation of 'Prince's Feathers', the heraldic badge of the Prince of Wales
    ... which look very much like some of the earlier Princess Feathers ... feathers.

  10. Tilde, thanks for stopping by. Wouldn't it be exciting to discover documentation that confirmed what REALLY inspired the first Princess/Prince's Feather quilt and what the quilt maker actually named it?

  11. Karen, I found your blog via Barbara Brackman's blog. I will be back! I love learning quilt history and studying the amazing designs. I've been working on English paper piecing hexagons and love the one you have pictured! I was going to do that setting but those little diamonds and triangles that make up the path totally intimidated me - now with a bit more experience I may tackle them. I also enjoy the Prince or Princess Feathers, but I think my favorite of the old red-and-white applique quilts are the coxcombs.
    Lalexander733 (at) gmail (dot) com

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lisa. One can never be bored if one likes quilts, that's for sure, whether you make them or study them!

  12. Great posting. Have you read Carol Gebel's 2007 Uncoverings article: "The Princess Feather: Exploring a Quilt Design". She discusses all of these possible influences, very interesting.

  13. Billy James 17 August 2012 We have the Princes' Feather quilt in our family which goe's back to the early 1800's and we have always been told that it rep. the feathers that ladies wore when presented to the King and Queen in England at Court, well after our braking away from some called it the ostraich feather

    1. Very interesting piece of family history! Do you a photo? Thanks for sharing.