Reader's Quilt Show: Antique Red and Green Quilts

Dana Jones
Reader's Quilt Show: Antique Red and Green Quilts

Antique Red and Green Applique Quilts

By Dana Jones


“Readers’ Quilt Show” in the December/January 2011 issue of Quilters Newsletter displays a variety of gorgeous antique quilts in the permanent collection of the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum (RMQM) in Golden, Colorado, many of which are part of the Sharon Lea Hicks Newman collection. The red-and-green appliqué on grounds of cream and white bring Christmas to mind, but the holiday had little to do with the making of these quilts.

Expanding availability of affordable, colorfast cotton fabric­ in the nineteenth century enticed quiltmakers to show off their needlework skills in red-and-green applique quilts. Middle-class women joined their wealthier counterparts in decorating their homes with quilts, and as they migrated west, they spread the popularity of quiltmaking from the Mid-Atlantic through the Ohio Valley into the Plains and beyond.

Red-and-green applique quilts reached the height of their popularity in the mid-nineteenth century. Red and green motifs—mostly floral designs—were stitched on white backgrounds. The quilting became more elaborate with the advent of mass-produced cotton thread.

Dyeing techniques changed rapidly during the century. “Turkey” red–more brilliant and permanent than other reds–was initially produced through a multistep process that took several months. Its name referred to the color’s origins in the eastern Mediterranean region where it was produced for centuries before Europeans discovered the secret of making it. By the 1860s, a synthetic coloring agent was discovered that streamlined the process and reduced the cost. A colorfast green dye was developed sometime around 1840. While some quilt historians have suggested the emergence of colorfast dyes spurred the popularity of the red and green color combination, Nancy Hornback in Kansas Quilts and Quilters (University Press of Kansas, 1993) claims it is more likely that the quilts reflected the popularity of these colors for drapes, walls, carpets, and table coverings in the first half of the century. The quilts often had yellow and pink highlights and occasionally blue.

For more information, see Quilts in Red and Green and the Women Who Made Them by Nancy Hornback and Terry Clothier Thompson (Kansas City Star Books, 2006).

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Would love to see an applique pattern available
I would love to see an applique pattern for one of the quilts available, free is always great, but not expected. A link to a pattern for purchase would be wonderful, maybe proceeds could help fund the museum. I'd be happy to draft the pattern if they are interested in providing a pattern for one of the quilts shown.
Love articles like this & quilts like these
I have to admit I pass on my QN when I'm done with them unless there is something that I want to keep in them. This issue is a keeper because of this article. I have always been intrigued by the red & green on cream quilts of this era. Thank you for including this article.


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