The American Coverlet
Written by Guest Columnist: Pat Martin
There are 4 types of American coverlets, the Overshot, the Double Weave, the Summer and Winter and the Jacquard. This article will focus on the Jacquard, because with the development of the Jacquard coverlet came the opportunity for the early American textile worker to display his fine sense of American spirit and individuality.
Summer and Winter
America’s earliest coverlets were brought over with the first European immigrants and were in daily use. It wasn’t long before the original coverlets had to be replaced by new ones. Virtually every home had a simple four-harness loom. Coverlets were the earliest form of home weaving in the New World. The most popular coverlet in America’s earliest days were the Overshot, which had natural linen warp and vegetable-dye single color wool homespun weft. Designs were composed of handsome displays of squares, stripes and diamonds.
About the year 1820, the first Jacquard loom attachment arrived in America from Europe. Recently developed by Frenchman Joseph Jacquard, this attachment was quite innovative for its day. It used a system of pattern cards, each with various sized holes punched in that activated the harnesses of the loom, thus making the pattern. It was now possible for weavers to make coverlets of wider panels with complicated, figural patterns and decorative borders. Often the Jacquard coverlet had the weaver’s name, the place of origin and the date the coverlet was made woven into its corners. This has been a significant help in textile research.
The Jacquard process in its early days, before mechanization took over, enabled the individualistic spirit of the American weavers to manifest itself in the art of the loom. Weavers quickly became adept at the Jacquard process and were making their own cards with their own patterns. After the completion of the coverlet, the weaver studied the pattern he created and gave it a name. This personalization did lead to some confusion in attributing the exact community in which the weaver did his or her work, but it does a lot to tell us of the social mores of the times. Pattern names such as “Christian and Heathen”, “Eagle and Independence Hall” and “True Boston Town” suggest the importance to the early American citizen of religion mixed with pride of home, community and newly established freedom.
For some fine examples, search for Coverlets on Dig Antiques.
About Pat Martin
Pat Martin owns Home Farm Antiques with her husband Bob.They specialize in investment quality 18th through early 20th century Americana, decorative arts, folk art, antique fine jewelry with a special interest in sentimental pieces, textiles and period costume. Home Farm Antiques is a member of VADA, CSA, NHADA, and APS.
Here are a few interesting references on Coverlets:
- What is a Coverlet?, National Museum of the Coverlet
- American Quilts and Coverlets, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Jacquard Coverlets Weave a Spell, New York Times, 1988
- American Quilts and Coverlets in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Amelia Peck, MQ Publications, 2007
- The Coverlet Book -Early American Handwoven Coverlets, Helene Bress, Flower Valley Press, 2003
- Find other books in the Resources section of Dig Antiques
Early Technology - Happy Thanksgiving!
As we read more about the Jacquard loom and how it works, we discovered that the ability to change the pattern of the loom's weave by simply changing cards was an important conceptual precursor to the development of computer programming. The Jacquard was invented in 1801 and it had great influence on both the creation of more intricate coverlets and 150 years later on computers. With our marriage of technology and love of antiques, it exciting to find other ways that Americana and computers interrelate!
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