Rose Overshot Coverlet
This year is flying by and I have yet to finish a project, but I am buying enough textiles to make up the difference!
This past week, my sister and great-nephew visited, through a week of storms. I had heard of a “Chippy Drippy Hippy Show” in a nearby town, that promised to be “Pinterest come to life.” I almost didn’t go, but after all that rain, my sister was in the mood to get out and browse, and as it turned out, there were wonderful things in every booth. I could have bought the place out.
This coverlet was serving as a table cover, beneath a lot of vases and dishes. The color alone drew me over – indigo blue or orange-y madder red are much more common. This rose red looks like cochineal or pokeberry to me. I could see that although it had damaged spots, the pattern yarn was in good shape across most of the coverlet. I bought it but told the booth owner I would come back for it the next day, so that she didn’t have to move everything while she was so busy with customers. (And that turned out to be a fortuitous choice, as you will see in my next posts!)
It came to me instantly that the name of this pattern was Double Chariot Wheels – and then I wondered how I knew that. I do own the usual handweaving books, but they contain hundreds of overshot patterns — how did I know that name?
It turned out that of the two times I have woven overshot, one of them was this pattern. (The other was the wonderfully named Cat Tracks and Snail Trails.)
I believe the coverlet that I bought is 100 – 200 years old (or possibly even older) — the red towel I made is about 30 years old, and I used larger threads, but it is amazing to me how the scale of the motifs is the same!
When I got the coverlet home and could look at it more closely, I noticed that it was woven in three panels. Two of them are 28 inches (72 cm) across, which is exciting, because it is a sign that is was woven by hand instead of by flying shuttle or machine.
The third panel is only 12 inches (30 cm) across. It looks to me like one of the panels was torn, so someone cut off the damaged part and turned under the edge and hemmed it.
Looking at the length of the coverlet, I noticed something else. The skinny left side panel and the central panel are both 96 inches (244 cm) long. To bring the right side panel to that length, a 2.5 inch section has been added at the bottom, and it was added before the three panels were put together. Everywhere else, the patterns match perfectly where the panels are stitched together, but in this one spot, just a random scrap was added. It really looks like the weaver did not weave one panel long enough, and had to add some material.
I had noticed that the pattern wefts were different shades — I assumed it had faded in the sun. But when I looked at it carefully, I noticed that the areas of strong color and lighter color were right next to each other. There seem to be three shades — dark, medium, and light, and they appear in different places in different panels. Also, the colors are the same on front and back of the textile. If the sun had caused the fading, it would gradually change within the same yarn, and the back would probably look different from the front.
Based on my own experience with natural dyes, I am wondering if the color differences are from different dye lots. Did our craftswoman dunk a few skeins in the dye pot, then a few more, and then a few more in the exhausted dye bath?
I am deducing that she did dye skeins and not fleece, because if she had dyed fleece, she would have seen the different shades and carded them together before spinning, and would have ended up with a more consistent color.
Alright, so when you put together:
- narrow panels
- singles yarn (not plyed)
- different dye lots
— that says “old, handspun, and handwoven” to me.
However, I do know that in the early 1900s, people set up workshops in the Appalachians, to keep the art of handweaving alive and to provide incomes for Appalachian women. They were working on hand looms, and supposedly they were much more concerned with matching the pattern blocks when stitching panels together, than artisans had been formerly when they were just weaving for themselves. So it is possible that this could have been made in a handweaving revival. I have to look into it more.
It is also possible that the same person did not do all the steps of spinning, dyeing, and weaving the blanket, but whoever did it, did a wonderful job!
As I was researching this today, I found some wonderful resources:
- a draft for Chariot Wheel
- National Museum of the American Coverlet
- Smithsonian Institution’s collection of coverlets
- The 1912 book by Eliza Calvert Hall that helped start the handweaving revival, A Book of Hand-woven Coverlets. The whole book is online! It has 15 color plates and many more in half-tone. (Another Double Chariot Wheels appears after page 68 of the book.)
I like the fact that it isn’t perfect, with its narrow panel and different reds, but that it has still survived all these years and been treasured. It’s lack of uniformity is part of its charm, which makes me worry less about the mistakes and shortfalls of fabric on quilts that I’ve made.
Yes, don’t the very perfect things seem soulless? I much prefer the unique and individual, even when they are far from perfect! 🙂
Great find!. Wonderful analysis.
I had occasion last year to do a Textile Museum program on Coverlets, Quilts and Hooked Rugs. There are a lot of interesting facets..
R. John Howe
I think I have read those posts but I will give them another look, and I bet I pick up new information!
What a find! This whole thing amazes me and makes me smile–the old coverlet is just beautiful and obviously meant to be yours, since you’ve woven the exact pattern AND because you are one of the few people who could make all those deductions about its creation. I think you are the Sherlock Holmes of textiles. . . .
Oh, that would make a cute post! “Elementary, my dear Kerry.” (I know he didn’t actually say that, but it is such a cute line.)
I’ll be waiting for this post . . . . 😉
What a beautiful piece…you are so lucky to have found it. I would have to agree with you that the variance in colors is due to the dye, which probably was a tad exhausted. Great job at sorting through the weaves. Your finds always amaze me. Meant to be i prrsume….now, aren’t you glad now that you went!!!
I am happy to have brought it to a loving home! 🙂 And now that I know about the Coverlet Museum, I can rest happy knowing that one day it and my other two coverlets will have a safe place to go!
What a wonderful find. Fascinating read as always.
Great and Know it is old due to the width of the panels and the hand sewing…along with all the other things you pointed out. WHAT a FIND!!
It’s always nice to get it home and find out it is better than you thought with that quick glance while shopping! 🙂
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Sherlock, you are truly amazing.
Yes, it’s amazing what 37 years of studying a topic can do for one’s knowledge! 🙂
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I love how you figured out it’s made of goat hair, and I have a fondness for overshot patterns, even if they don’t wear as well as a tighter weave. Some old commercial coverlets I’ve seen have the date of manufacture woven into them.
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