Rare Early American Indigo Resist-dye Quilt

Rare Early American Indigo Resist-dye Quilt

An uncommon and beautifully-preserved survivor of early American textile art. The boldly-printed indigo design with its picotage detail seems to vibrate on the white cotton ground. We find the colonial-era pattern, which shows the influence of trade with Europe and India, to have a striking modernity. American indigo textiles of this quality can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Winterthur Museum.

The production of indigo was so laborious (one hundred pounds of Indigofera were required to make four ounces of dye) that it became the most highly valued dye in world history. The plant is native to India, and Herodotus describes its use in the Mediterranean as early as 450 BC. After 1900, production of indigo dye ceased. Bleaching of fabric was also labor-intensive and time-consuming. A quilt such as this one might have taken six months to create. Perhaps this explains why “‘blanketts, coverlids, feather ticks, ruggs, testers, bolsters, curtaines, head cloth, and vallences’ were often carefully listed along with other items bequeathed to a son or daughter.” (Pettit)

From the moment we acquired this arresting beauty, we were intent on discovering its origin. With the help of a colleague in the field, we discovered our quilt in Florence Pettit’s important text on American indigo-dyed textiles. Pettit writes that it is “printed in only a single shade of dark indigo blue; there are fewer white-ground examples thus printed than others in two shades of blue,” and that this type of quilt forms “a distinctive, strong style among America’s blues.”

For further information, see?1stdibs.

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