An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

The Tulip Quilt [ca 1880]

"Made by Mary Louisa Snoddy Black—‘The Tulip’ design. Cousin Theresa Snoddy helped quilt it."

Laurel Horton, The Tulip Quilt, circa 1880

History:

The Tulip was one of the most popular appliqué patterns in the Carolina upcountry during the 1870s , and the color scheme and arrangement of Mary's quilt are typical of the region and the era.

It is constructed of twenty identical blocks of a very large single tulip motif. Each tulip blossom has five points and is attached to a stem having two small leaves. Compared with other appliquéd floral patterns, these "Carolina" Tulip quilts are particularly big and bold, rather than graceful and delicate.

Mary's color scheme of red, green, and orange is typical for appliqué quilts of the region in this era. Although quiltmakers in other parts of the country favored printed fabrics at this time, solid colors were more common in inland parts of the southern states. The particular shades of red and green were produced by early chemical dyes. Before the development of aniline dyes in 1859, all fabric dyes were produced from animal, vegetable, or mineral products. The brownish-red and bluish-green produced by chemical dyes are characteristic of quilts made in the Carolinas during the 1870s, and these subdued shades contrast vividly with the vibrant reds and yellowish greens found in quilts prior to the era. Chrome orange, a mineral dye, was frequently used as an accent in red and green quilts in the mid-nineteenth century.

Construction:

Mary's quilt is also typical of southern quilts of the era in that the blocks are set solidly within a grid of wide fabric strips, called "sashing." She quilted around the edges of the appliquéd motifs and added further rows to echo the contours of the larger pieces. The background is quilted in "hanging diamonds," that is, rows of horizontal lines crossed with rows of diagonal lines, and the sashing and border are quilted diagonally. The edges of the quilt are bound with a strip of green fabric.

Mary appliquéd the tulip motifs by hand, but she joined the blocks and sashing using a sewing machine. The binding is inexpertly attached with a single row of machine stitching. We don't know when the Snoddy family bought their sewing machine or what brand they had, but sewing machines were widely used in this era. An ad for J. K. White, a local store, in the Spartanburg Herald on May 19, 1875, offered "Singer's celebrated sewing machines, the cheapest and the best sewing machine, for sale on easy terms." In the same issue, McK. Johnstone advertised his cleaning and repair service: "Bring in your sewing machines and have them made good as new."

The fabric on the back of the Tulip quilt is a fine plain white cotton, stamped with the words "Granite Shirtings." The Graniteville mill, near Aiken, was the first South Carolina textile mill to successfully develop a national market for its products. Southern mills produced primarily plain fabrics for most of the nineteenth century. The shirting Mary chose to back her quilt was a finer and comparatively more expensive fabric than the sheetings that were more often used for quilt backings in South Carolina throughout the nineteenth century.

Published: 19 May 2006

© 2006 Laurel Horton and Southern Spaces