QUILTS & FABRIC: PAST & PRESENT


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thomas Allom: A Lancashire Cotton Mill in the 1830s

Women working at power looms in Lancashire about 1835
from a watercolor by Thomas Allom

Thomas Allom (1804-1872)

Thomas Allom was an architect and painter who visited a huge cotton mill
in Preston in Lancashire, England in the early 1830s.

Swainson, Birley & Company
a hand-colored engraving from an Allom painting of the Fishwick Mills

The Swainson and Birley mills had a history of over a century. Their buildings were variously known as the Bannister Hall Printworks and the Fishwick Mills.

 1882 cotton kerchief celebrating the Fishwick Mills

 Swainson was considered the best furniture printer at the time --- furniture being
a name for chintz. This ca. 1835 print is in the collection of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Allom probably had a commission to record the workings of the mill---the latest technology. His watercolors were engraved as prints and included in an 1835 book by Edward Baines: History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain

Black and white engraving in Baines's book.

Allom's picture of calico printing on cylinder presses is an
often reproduced engraving from the book. 

Border stripe printed by Swainson about 1835
The Victoria & Albert Museum has several prints from the Swainson mills
See the whole print here:

Carding, drawing and roving the cotton fiber.
Allom painted four steps in cotton print production beginning with carding the
raw cotton by machine.


The wood engravings produced for multiple printings are quite impressive. More impressive are the actual watercolors that Allom painted, which are in the collection of the Manchester Science Museum.

The paintings are described as "pencil, pen, sepia and wash"

Allom was working about five years before photographs.

His attention to detail is best seen in the paintings


Spinning the yarn on mule spinners, the second step.
(There were spinning jennies and spinning mules---named for work animals.)

Power-Loom Weaving, the third step

Note how many young women were employed. In 1835 a local medical examiner counted 433 mill employees between the ages of 11 and 18 of which 256 were girls. 


See the Allom paintings here

The accession numbers on the paintings indicate they were acquired in 1985. I would imagine
they were purchased at a Christie's Auction then. A real treasure.

Allom's painting of the mills
The 7-story main building opened in the mid 1820s  was known locally as the Big Factory

Read Baines's book here


And learn all about the "Great Mechanical Inventions"

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Tottenville Sisters #4: Dating the Quilts


How old are these Totten Family quilts?  Florence Peto and family member Ella Butler recorded a chronology in the 1930s. According to that:

The Smithsonian's with the initials BT was about 1812.

Charlotte Winter's watercolor from the WPA Index of American Design
The Farmers' Museum's Sunflower was older.

John Oster's watercolor from the WPA Index of American Design
The Staten Island Historical Society's is dated 1835.


All we have to go on here are watercolors and photographs. We have far more visual information about the quilt with the initials BT at the Smithsonian than we do about the Mary Ann Dubois quilt at the Staten Island Historical Society or the sunflower quilt. We can't really compare the actual prints but we can compare print style and I have to say I think these quilts were all made at roughly the same time.

The red and green above are two common fabrics in all three quilts.

The blues looks to be blue blotch-ground chintzes.

Reds: Turkey red grounds and several stripes and plaids

All from the same period. But what period?
Based on the fabrics: 
I'd say a transition between chintz fashion and calico fashion.
1830s?

The two star quilts (and there is supposed to be a third) must have taken years to applique.

Pattern is a good dating clue here. I wrote about the sunflower yesterday.

Here's one dated 1832.

I doubt the Totten sunflower was made much earlier than the stars.

Irene Schaefer's watercolor of the BT quilt
at the Smithsonian.

The Rising Sun or Star of Bethlehem pieced design in the center doesn't appear until the early 19th century. Both star quilts feature stars pieced of a 9x9 grid of diamonds, 81 diamonds in each arm. The earliest date-inscribed similar design is in the collection of the Delaware Historical Society

"Catherine Collins Hur Work August the 7 1806."
Quilts dated in the first years
of the 19th century are rather scarce. 

The next date-inscribed large star in my picture files is 1835
the same year that is on the Dubois star. 

Made by Zerviah Miner of Litchfield, Connecticut, 1835.
Collection Madison Historical Society 

Detail of the Miner quilt also with 81 diamonds per point 
and pieced of reds and yellow small-scale prints

I have two block-style star quilts in the files dated 1839.

By Sarah Kyle, 1839. DAR Museum Collection

1839. From Julia's inventory at
Pique Trouver.

This is definitely a style that makes good use
of the newly fashionable Turkey reds.

BT- Smithsonian
The are dating it to the 1830s now.

The applique pattern is also a style characteristic. The Totten stars feature florals cut from chintz and leaves and buds cut from calicoes, an unusual combination.

The Smithsonian has another quilt dated 1818 with similar style in the medallion center.
Note the larger chintz florals and blue calico leaves.

Quilt dated "1818 Ann Dagg.s"

Dated 1837-38 by 
Adeline Wineberger Lusby in the Smithsonian
Cut-out chintz ranges from about 1775 to 1865.
Not much help.

Patchwork pattern tells us that the quilts could be as early as 1800 but much more likely to date from after 1825. 

The Dubois quilt dated 1835 may be the best indicator of date. 

Betsey Totten's marriage record 1795


But the problem with this late date is that Betsey Totten (BT on the Smithsonian's quilt) was only BT until 1795 when she married William Cole and became BC. I can't believe these quilts were made as early as the time of Betsey's marriage.


Who made the quilts?
The Totten sisters of Tottenville.

Letitia Totten Johnson is an unlikely candidate as she died in 1833 at 50.


The most likely candidate is Elizabeth Totten Cole  (1772-1860). 

Richmond County Bible Records
Betsey lived quite a long life,
dying at almost 90 years old.

But then there's Mary Totten Polhemus Williams(1781-1861) who lived a little longer than her sister and mentioned a Rising Sun spread in her will. Rachel's a possibility. Rachel Totten Johnson Butler (1778-1858) only lived to be 80. The quilts seem to have descended in the Butler family.

Have I solved any of the Tottenville puzzle? I doubt it.
If I were writing a caption for one of the quilts it might say:
One of at least four quilts attributed to the Totten Family of Staten Island, sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century. Four Totten sisters Elizabeth, Mary, Rachel and Letitia were born in the 1770s and '80s and lived into the mid-nineteeth century. One quilt is dated 1835 and they all may date to that time.
Recent quilt inspired by the Totten Rising Sun
at the Smithsonian and another applique. 
See the green lozenge shapes in the last border.
My notes just say Laura and Sandy. Know who made this one?

UPDATE:
Laura Franchini and Sandi McMillan made the recent masterpiece. Thanks to commenters for the detective work. And for the suggestion that a Totten sister in law may have made the BT quilt. More Tottens!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Tottenville Sisters # 3: The Sunflower/Sunburst Quilt

WPA Watercolor of a "Sunburst Quilt," painted in the 1930s
by Charlotte Winter for the WPA's Index of American Design.

I was excited to find this color photo of the painting at the National Gallery of Art. Cuesta Benberry had been looking for a color picture of the quilt for years with no luck. It's the fourth Totten family quilt that Florence Peto showed.

UPDATE: Barbara Schaffer reminds me of the New Jersey projects book A Passion for Quilts: The Story of Florence Peto in which there is a photo of the Sunflower quilt on page 127.

The watercolor was pictured in Peto's 1939 book
Historic Quilts in a black and white detail.


Peto says "probably made by Mary Totten" and she guessed it was "older than the Rising Suns."
There are at least three Rising Suns or Star quilts attributed to the Totten family.

Again two different WPA artists painted two pictures: a detail and an overall view of the quilt.
This painting is by George Loughridge.

Cuesta had found a black and white photo in the collection of 
Collection of the New York State Historical Association
 (now in the Cooperstown Farmers' Museum.)
In the records it was noted that Ella Totten Butler attributed it to Mary Totten Williams 

Peto holding a copy of her 1939 book Historic Quilts,
which contains watercolors of the Totten quilts.

Florence Peto worked with Ella Butler in the 1930s and Peto may have linked the WPA artists with Butler's collection of family quilts. The New York Historical Association records indicate Peto obtained the quilt from Ella Butler before it went to the Association. She also may have brokered some of the other quilts as museum gifts or purchases. Barbara S. says she sold the Sunflower quilt to the New York museum in 1944.

 In the 1980s my friends Cuesta Benberry and Joyce Gross did much research on Peto and her collection. We discussed it all at length.

NY Historical Association records

Somehow the Sunburst or Sunflower became known as "Mary Totten's first quilt."
Do we have any evidence of this?

Detail of Charlotte Winter's painting gives us an idea
of the fabrics. Looks like the blue crosses are cut from a blue-ground chintz.
The fabric appears to be no later than 1840. The patchwork design no earlier than 1810 or so.
A date then of about 1810-1840.

A similar quilt from New York below pieced of buffs and blues from about 1850.
Sarah Jane Stoller, Johnstown, New York
Collection of the New England Quilt Museum
Estimated date 1840-1860

I've done a couple of posts about these sunflower quilts

I don't see that the Totten sunflower is any earlier than the Star quilts.
They seem to share fabrics and borders.

Three borders, same green chintz lozenges



Tomorrow we'll look at the dates on the Tottenville quilts.
Indiana Starburst by Judy Morton, Lydia Stoll and Miriam Graber 2008
Center inspired by the Smithsonian's quilt.