Quilts vs. Coverlets - An American Story
These American-made quilts handed down over the years through many generations, constitute their own history of our nation. Particularly those that were stitched together during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Quilts are made from pieces of fabric stitched together to form beautiful pieces.
But roughly parallel to the development of American quilting was American weaving. Beginning in colonial times, cotton and wool were woven to make coverlets, which quickly became an indispensable asset in the American homes. Unlike a "brides quilt", the coverlet was less a form of decorative pride than a staple of everyday use.
Until the second quarter of the nineteenth century, weavers served a number of towns from one central location, the situs of their loom . The weaving of one quilt took one or two days, and usually involved the assistance of an apprentice. The cost to the buyer was usually $6 to $12. At least one weaver could be found in most county seats.
Most nineteenth century coverlets involved imported indigo and madder dyes and local wool. Often natural home dyes were used as well. The most common form of weaving in those days was called "overshot", but double-weave (two layered) coverlets were also popular.
In the early days of coverlet weaving, most weavers employed a rather primitive "four harness" loom, which was limited in its ability to incorporate complex or original patterns. But in the 1800s all of this changed. A loom termed the "Jacquard" after its French inventor enabled the weaver to incorporate many more intricate designs...including in many instances the name of the client or the location of the loom.
Thus the decades before the Civil War saw the Jacquard coverlet progress from a rather limited functional item to one of aesthetic beauty, present in most homes. After the Civil War, the demand for such quilts faded. Thus if you have an 1800-1860 bedroom, a woven coverlet is one of the best bets for authenticity.
We have in personal collection a limited number of these representatives of the weaver's art; overshot, double weave, and Jacquard, some biederwand or tied biederwand. Some, incredibly, have retained a brightness and clarity rarely matched in quilts of a similar vintage. Others bear the scars of 150 years of history.
The first image below is a great example of a quilt, stitched together, The second image displays a beautiful coverlet, which is entirely woven.