antique quilt dating guides ... by Style

written by Kimberly Wulfert, Quilt Historian

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How to Date Quilts by Style 

Whether you sell, buy, study or collect, the age of a quilt is important to know.

 The Guide places your quilt in a quilt styles timeline. Use the guide in two ways:

1) Reading across a row you see how the style changed over time or ceased to be commonly made

2) Reading straight down a time periodís column you will find a description of the most common quilts styles in that era.

The 20th Century Chart also includes a check list of 12 features that distinguish them from quilts made in the 19th Century. Once these features are learned, it wonít be difficult to tell at a glance the most likely century the quilt is from.

The Guides are condensed but written with the uninitiated in mind so if you are new to quilt dating you will find them useful. The most common styles found in an era are listed, not every single style found in an era. And a style is listed under the time period when  it is most commonly made, not all the years it was made.

Some chart descriptions include the quilting pattern or the fabrics or the colors of the fabrics, when these are important to the distinguishing the styleís place in the timeline.

The style of a quilt is the first thing you see when you view a quilt, whether online, in person. A quiltís fabric is hard to date from a distance, but the style jumps right out at you and gets the dating process under way quickly. Using the Quick Guide alone or with Fabric ID and swatch books will quickly point you to a good estimate of the era in which your quilt was made.

Dating quilts with accuracy includes examination of many parts of the quilts, but the process starts with one aspect and goes from there. For me, the style is usually the first place I start. I weigh other characteristics against the style's era as I go through the other characteristics to determine the date range.

Provenance is not always reliable, even when given in good faith, or when written on an old scrap of paper attached to the quilt with a pin by a relative.

A Key to Abbreviations is located on each of the Guides for handy reference. Many of them are abbreviations you use yourself, like blk. for block and prtd for printed.

My educational charts are EASY to USE and filled to the brim with DETAILS about a quilt style.

Arenít Style and Pattern the Same Thing? 

The style and pattern name for a quilt are not the same thing. A style is a classification like whole cloth, block quilt, charm quilt, foundation quilt,  utility quilt, 4-block applique, whitework, Colonial Revival, Dresden plate, medallion, and cut-out chintz (called broderie perse in the late 19th century) A pattern is Jacobís Ladder, Hole in the Barn Door, Lemoyne Star, Ohio Star, Rail Fence, and Square in a Square block.

As always, there are exceptions. Sometimes the block pattern name is also the name of the quilt style. The Lone Star quilt, was also called the Star of Bethlehem, is one example of a style that is the patternís name. Grandmotherís Flower Garden is another. These are pointed out on the chart.

In the 20th century it is more common to name a quilt style using its pattern name. For example, four of the most common quilt styles made then were Sunbonnet Sue, Grandmotherís Flower Garden, Dresden plate and Double Wedding Ring. GFG was called the mosaic or honeycomb style when it was made early in the 19th century. The style is  also referred to as a One-Patch Hexagon and if all the fabric pieces are made from a different fabric, it would be called a Charm Quilt at that time.

With this in mind, when you see or read about a hexagon quilt, if it is described as a GFG or as a mosaic or honeycomb, you will now know what era the quilt is from. This helps when viewing an auction description, a dealerís sales tag, or reading quilt history!

Reproducing Antique Quilts 

Use the styles down a column to choose the quilt style for the time period to match your fabrics.

Teach Yourself to Date Quilts

There are wonderful how to date quilts  books on the market filled with photos of quilts or fabrics. Using my Guides with fabric photos will help you make associations in time and design to aid in learning how to recognize a quiltís style easily and quickly on your own. It is much easier in chart form to see where a style falls in the big picture of  quilts made in America since the Revolution.

The number of styles listed within a time period are in ( ).

Blue chart: 18-19th century
1775-1830 (
1830-1870 (
1870-1900 (

Green chart: 20th century    
1900-1920 (

Antique Quilt Dating * Quilters Spirit

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