Red & White Quilts

By | 07/14/2021

(Originally published in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #89, May 2021. Written by Rita Farro.)

Infinite Variety:  Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts, Park Avenue Armory, March 2011

Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts,
Park Avenue Armory, March 2011

The most popular two-color combination in the quilt world must surely be RED and WHITE. In her book, Red & White Quilting, Linda Pumphrey writes, The vibrant contrast of red and white quilts has appealed to quilters for three centuries and has been a staple since the mid-nineteenth century.

In the 1700s, the color turkey red was a result of a unique dying process that began in India and moved west to the region around Turkey and Greece. The complicated process was a closely guarded secret involving up to seventeen steps, including soaking the yarns in lye, animal fat, urine, dung, etc.

Turkey Red was colorfast. Most natural dyes would run or fade with water or sun, but Turkey Red never did. It was a vibrant new color that stayed true after repeated washing. Even after the European textile manufacturers cracked the code in the 1800s, the bright, vibrant color was still referred to as Turkey Red.

According to Carolyn Ducey, Ph.D., Curator of Collections, International Quilt Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, red and white quilts have always been a favorite for quilt collectors. The museum has over 80 red and white quilts in its collection, with the oldest, Crosses, dating back to 1830.

Their number of red and white quilts is about to go from 80 to over 700. The museum is in the process of acquiring the most famous red and white quilt collection in the world. The Joanna Rose Red and White quilt collection was the subject of a very famous, breath-taking exhibition at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory in March 2011.

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