Made in America: The Folk Art of Coverlets

Mansfield Historical Society, June – September, 2010

This exhibit can be navigated by using the links below. All Images can also be viewed at a larger size by simply clicking on each image. They will open over the content of the page.

(Excerpts from the exhibit.  Unless noted, the coverlets are in the MHS collection. The curators of the exhibit were Ann Galonska and Peggy Church.)

Geometric Pattern Coverlets

Most of the overshot coverlets displayed here were woven in the early 19th century on four-harness looms and could be woven by the home weaver. The more complicated summer and winter and double weave coverlets required more than four shafts and were largely the domain of the professional weaver. 

Inexpensive mill spun cotton yarn became available shortly after 1800 with the invention of the cotton gin. Until then farm families raised and processed flax for linen and sheep for their wool. Once home weavers could purchase cotton yarn for their warp, they stopped using their labor-intensive hand-spun linen. There was more time to weave for pleasure. Overshot coverlets quickly became a popular form of artistic expression. 

Professional weavers probably produced most of the summer and winter coverlets displayed here because of the number of blocks in the designs. The client selected a pattern from the weaver’s pattern book and often provided her own homespun wool. The coverlet became a collaborative effort between the client and weaver. 

Whether woven at home or by a professional, these coverlets with their colorful geometric patterns supplied both beauty and warmth to the household.

Common Weave Structures Used In Antique Coverlets

  1. Overshot Dyed wool singles yarn floats over a white ground cloth to form blocks of color.
  2. Double Weave Separate layers of dark and light cloth are woven to form the design blocks.  The two layers of fabric are joined together wherever the colors switch.
  3. Summer and Winter Small pattern units are grouped to create dark and light blocks of pattern.  This is a single-layer textile and each side is the reverse pattern of the other.
  4. Biederwand or “Lampas” Two warp threads are used, one a fine thread to tie down the pattern wefts to the ground fabric at regular intervals.  This creates a vertical ribbed effect on both sides of the textile.

Overshot Coverlets

Overshot Coverlet - King's Flower of Sixteen Roses
Overshot Coverlet: Undyed cotton with green and gold wool Pattern: King’s Flower or Sixteen Roses

Natural dyes were used to color the wool for this coverlet. It is likely that goldenrod, with alum as the mordant, was used to produce the gold color. The green dye may have been derived by cooking the goldenrod in an iron pot.  Some other sources of green dye are black-eyed susans, coneflowers, nettles, and barberry root. It is also possible that the gold wool was over-dyed with indigo to produce the green color.

Overshot Coverlet - Sun, Moon & Stars
Overshot Coverlet: Undyed cotton and indigo wool Pattern: Sun, Moon & Stars (Atwater # 74)

 This coverlet was found at the Church family homestead in Chaplin.  The coverlet features repeating blocks of wheel motifs.  The knotted fringe was probably added at a later date. Can you see the sun, moon and stars in this pattern? 

Overshot Coverlet: Sun, Moon & Stars Reverse Side
Overshot Coverlet: Undyed cotton and indigo wool Pattern: Sun, Moon & Stars (Atwater # 74)
Overshot Coverlet Weaver's Choice
Overshot Coverlet Undyed cotton and rust wool Pattern: Weaver’s Choice (Atwater #60)

The rust-colored wool in this coverlet may have been dyed with madder root.  The Weaver’s Choice pattern features large lozenge motifs surrounding blocks of four roses.  Together they form a large blossom pattern.

Overshot Coverlet Weaver's Choice
Reverse side detail. Overshot Coverlet Undyed cotton and rust wool Pattern: Weaver’s Choice (Atwater #60)

Summer and Winter Coverlets

Summer and Winter Coverlet - Nine Snowballs and Four Roses
Summer and Winter Coverlet – Undyed linen and indigo wool – Pattern: Nine Snowballs and Four Roses. Belonged to the Crane family of Mansfield.
Nine Snowballs and Four Roses - Reverse side detail.
Reverse side detail of Nine Snowballs and Four Roses. Example of a summer and winter Coverlet – Undyed linen and indigo wool. Belonged to the Crane family of Mansfield.
Coverlet Wheel of Fortune
Summer and Winter Coverlet Undyed cotton and indigo wool Pattern: Wheel of Fortune

Wheels motifs are a common element in early coverlets.  There are many variations.  This pattern is known as Wheel of Fortune.  This coverlet features wheel motifs joined by 8-step crosses, forming a strong diagonal pattern.

Coverlet - Wheel of Fortune
Reverse side detail. Pattern: Wheel of Fortune

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