Coverlet Mysteries

I don’t see as many woven coverlets for sale as I do quilts, but this is one I picked up back in the 90s.  I’ve always thought of it as a small blanket, because it folds up compactly, but it’s actually pretty big – 97″ by 87″ ( 221 cm by 247 cm).

Overshot coverlet

Overshot coverlet – Spiderweb pattern

It was woven in three panels – I’ll call them A, B, and C.  There are threading errors in the exact same place on all three panels, which indicates that they were woven on the same warp.

threading errors

Threading errors – two in the pattern blocks and one in the tabby threading.

So you would think that this wide coverlet was woven in one extremely long, thin panel. But they’re not all the same color – Panel A and B are a dark tan, and Panel C is much lighter, as if a new warp was wound on for it.

Two warp colors

Look how perfectly these panels line up! But their warp and tabby threads are different colors. (Shown from the back to make the difference more obvious.)

I don’t know about you, but even if I am too lazy to fix threading errors when I notice them, I at least fix them between warps!  So that makes me think that maybe someone just tied the new warp on to the old one, and didn’t actually re-thread.  That would be really tricky with this warp, because it is cotton singles.

Panels B and C are woven just about perfectly – they line up perfectly where the panels are sewn together.

Panel A, on the other hand, has a lot of issues!  The treadling is off on several repeats, and there is no way to make the patterns line up with the neighboring panel.

mismatched panels

On the left, two blue stripes vertically between the squares – on the right, three stripes. There is no way to shift these patterns to have them match up.

I think  Panel A had to have been woven by a different person, one who was not as concerned about his/her weaving.  I would love to know the story – was Weaver A an apprentice?  A young child who was learning how to weave?  Or someone who really wanted to be doing something other than weaving?

Panel A is extremely worn, with mends and tears, but the other two panels are in great shape.  Panel C is almost pristine.  So were all these panels always together in one big blanket?  Have they been recombined from other blankets?  Was Panel C stored away, and added later?

One time I took the coverlet to a workshop on colonial textiles led by Norman Kennedy, a well-known weaving teacher and former weaver for Colonial Jamestown.  His assessment was that the warp and tabby weft were hand-spun brown cotton! and the pattern weft was a hand-spun wool singles, and that it had never been washed!

So let’s finish up with some close-ups of this wonderful handiwork.  I count 40 ends per inch for a 30 inch wide warp – that’s 1200 ends, times at least 10 yards for the warp – then double that to account for the weft.  So you have about 24,000 yards of handspun brown cotton, and about 12,000 yards of handspun, indigo-dyed wool, for one blanket.  One blanket.

close-up of threads

Close-up of torn spot to show loose threads.

macro view

Macro view – each of these big squares is a quarter inch across.

I am always amazed and humbled by the extra work people went through to add beauty to a functional object.