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Friday, January 24, 2014

Object Stories: Quilts and Coverlets in the Collection (Part 3 of 3)

Quilt, 1904-1920, wool, 79 x 54 in. Goldstein Museum of Design, Gift of Patricia and Clyde Burmeister 2006.057.001

Joining the GMD's collection in 2006, this quilt comes complete with an interesting provenance. Gifted by Clyde and Patricia Burmeister, the quilt can be traced back to Clarkfield, Minnesota and Mrs. Burmeister's grandparents, Konrad and Sophia Solberg. Konrad Knute Solberg (1874-1954) was the 27th Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota; however, it is his Clarkfield haberdashery shop that most affects the study of this quilt.

The Burmeisters explained that the quilt was created from suiting samples taken from Solberg's store, established in 1903. In an era when clothes were still being made by hand either at home or by local tailors, such stores carried a wide variety of commercially produced bolts of fabric, including suiting material for men, women, and children. Suiting fabric was produced in a variety of structures, from basketweave to herringbone to elaborate jacquards, examples of each seen in this quilt

Each of the quilt's squares measures approximately 8 x 4 ½ inches. Some feature small discolored square stains in the corners, perhaps the result of a chemical response to glue from a label or binding in a sample book. It was not uncommon for women to use samples or textile remnants in their quilts. They saved scraps from garment construction, recycled worn clothes or furnishing fabrics, and sent for scraps from textile mills.

Sometimes referred to as "comforts," utility quilts like this featured simple designs without borders, large blocks of sturdy fabrics, and colorful yarn ties. Large square blocks of pre-cut fabric samples would have been quick to piece together, especially by machine. The maker of this quilt skipped the decorative quilting step, opting to quickly tie the blanket together with yellow yarn knots. Quilts like this were most often made by those with the fewest resources, whether those resources were fabric, time, or a warm, cozy winter fire. Yet, the owner of this quilt was a well-to-do businessman and farmer, soon to be elected Lieutenant Governor. While it is certainly possible the Solberg family fell on hard times, it is more likely that this quilt was "utilitarian" only in spirit.

- Natasha Thoreson, Collection Assistant

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Object Stories: Quilts and Coverlets in the Collection (Part 2 of 3)

Coverlet, 1840-1880, wool and cotton, 85 x 42 in. Goldstein Museum of Design, Gift of Mrs. Frank Haynes 1980.105.006

Coverlets emerged in the early 19th century alongside new developments in spinning technology. While the cotton gin was perfected in 1793, it was not until local mills adopted the "spinning-jenny" in the early 19th century that cotton yarn became readily available, and affordable, to the masses. Cotton was difficult to spin by hand and poorly spun cotton was ill-suited for weaving. However, mill-spun yarn was both strong enough and cheap enough to use at will. It was also much easier to use than wool. Cotton yarn did not need to be scoured, washed, or sized. Sizing required dipping woolen yarn in a homemade glue-like solution of eggs, water, and flour. This helped strengthen the yarn and keep it moving smoothly through the loom. Commercially produced cotton saved the weaver a great deal of time and effort.

The coverlet developed as a distinctly American art form in the 1810s, as a patriotic symbol of American ingenuity. The southern United States produced ample amounts of the fiber; Americans perfected methods for harvesting and utilizing their native crop. Though the Revolution was over, the British still hoped to force an American reliance on British industry. They flooded the United States market with cheap cotton textiles produced in India. The British surmised that if imported textiles were easily obtained, perhaps Americans would not go through the trouble of creating their own textile mills. Instead, Americans worked to develop their own mills and cotton products. Therefore, homemade coverlets were a way to demonstrate American independence, an alternative to British cotton exports. While nowhere stated as such, one might hypothesize that the red, white, and blue of the standard coverlet reflected this patriotic stance.

The coloring of the Goldstein's coverlet stands as an anomaly, a lone black sheep amidst a hundred white. While it is possible the coverlet's weaver deviated from the standards set by her neighbors, another explanation may prove more reasonable. Fueled by Arts and Crafts societies eager to resurrect folk craft, the arts of coverlet weaving and patchwork quilting were once again in fashion at the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps this coverlet was made in the revivalist spirit.

-- Natasha Thoreson, Collection Assistant

Watch for the final installment of the "Quilts and Coverlets in the Collection" blog trilogy, coming soon.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Object Stories: Quilts in the Collection (Part 1 of 3)

redquilt1.jpgWhole cloth four-poster quilt, 1750-1780, wool and linen, 99 x 97in. Goldstein Museum of Design, Gift of Mona Brown 1999.069.001

Among the oldest textiles in the GMD's collection, this quilt is said to date to back to Colonial America. Though visually quite different from its colorful patchwork and appliqu├ęd cousins, this somewhat sedate bedcover is nevertheless easily identified as a quilt. It is crafted from two solid-colored panels: one faded red, the other a pale gold. Sandwiched between is a layer of natural wool batting, visible through a smattering of moth holes.


These three layers are then joined - or quilted - together with regularly-spaced stitches to form a Neoclassical design. This type of quilt is known as a whole cloth quilt, and was the earliest form of quilting done in the Colonies.


Whole cloth quilts were routinely imported to the Colonies from England. England's textile industry was well-developed; textiles were thus easily obtained. Homespun quilts were quite rare in the 18th century. Creating fabric from scratch was difficult and time-consuming, especially when added to an already burdensome list of daily chores. Homespun fabric likely complemented, rather than replaced, commercial products. However, several small clues indicate that this quilt was, in fact, homemade. The first clue is obvious: the quilt's unusual "T" shape. This shape is unique to New England and was essentially unknown outside the region. Made to fit neatly around the tall spindles framing a four-poster bed, this type of quilt was created specifically for a New England home, most likely by a citizen of the region. The unusual piecing also indicates it was made by hand, utilizing scraps created by notching the fabric to fit the bed.


The second clue is the quilt's Neoclassical design, which came into vogue after 1760. The political atmosphere of mid-18th-century New England was heated. The 1760s saw homemade cloth-making acquire potent political meaning as Parliament's effort to tax the colonies provoked boycotts of British goods. The country's first do-it-yourself movement took center stage as enterprising women were celebrated for their ingenuity and patriotism.


- Natasha Thoreson, GMD Collections Assistant

Watch for upcoming blog posts on other interesting quilts in the GMD collection.