Made in America: The Folk Art of Coverlets / 2

Mansfield Historical Society, June – September, 2010

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The Jacquard Loom

Joseph-Marie Jacquard took out a patent in 1800 for a machine designed to replace the draw boy in the weaving of figured cloth. The draw boy stood at the top of the loom and, according to the weaver’s instructions, raised or lowered particular warp threads. Jacquard’s invention automated the draw boy’s job and sped up the weaving process.

Jacquard Loom
Joseph-Marie Jacquard patented loom.

Jacquard’s loom utilized a system of punch cards and hooks. Each punch card stored information on which set of warp threads to raise with each passage of the shuttle. The punch cards were stitched together in a continuous loop.

As the punch cards rotated through the “card reader” at the top of the loom, the hooks entered the holes on the card, lifting the attached harness. The pattern of holes on the punch card determined whether the weft was laid above or below the selected warp threads. Using this punch card system, thousands of threads could be individually controlled to produce intricate patterns.

Jacquard or “Fancy” Coverlets

The jacquard loom was introduced to the United States about 1824. When American coverlet weavers added the jacquard device to the top of their hand-powered looms, it enabled them to weave elaborate designs, printed letters and numbers.

If a fancy coverlet has a center seam, it was woven on a hand-powered loom. If there is no center seam, it was machine woven. When these fancy coverlets became available, fewer simple ones were woven.

This concept of using punched cards to control the action of threads eventually led to the modern information technology of today’s computers.

The colorful jacquard coverlets reached their height of popularity from 1830 to 1855. Unfortunately the Civil War soon disrupted the careers of the professional coverlet weavers. Many weavers joined the fight. By the end of war, there was little demand for their weaving skills. By then, most textiles were factory woven.

Punch Cards & Coverlet Patterns

It is likely that American coverlet weavers punched their own cards from purchased paper designs.  Weavers often advertised that they had the latest patterns from the “east.” While punching cards, weavers could add their own variations to a standard pattern. The punch card system made it easy for weavers to interchange borders and other design elements to create a new coverlet design. Weavers often included their name, location, client’s name and date in the corner blocks of their coverlets – great advertising for the weaver and wonderful documentation for today’s collectors.

Jacquard loom with punch card
Example of a Jacquard loom with a punch card attachment.

Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet

Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet
Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet

Attributed to David Haring or Nathaniel Young. Bergen County, New Jersey

This coverlet is unsigned but the corner blocks contain a signature logo – a rose with four leaves – that was used by both David Haring and Nathaniel Young. The top and bottom borders feature a cartouche containing the client’s name and date flanked on one side by an eagle and on the other by a chicken standing on an egg. These are motifs common to both weavers. There are also similarities in the centerfield designs of some of their coverlets. Both weavers worked in Bergen County, New Jersey and may have worked together at some time. Note the charming side borders with hens and chicks flanking urns of flowers.

The provenance of this coverlet is known. The coverlet was handed down to Thomas Moore of Middletown and was given to the Society by Jessie and Willard Daniels. Thomas Moore’s great-great-grandfather was Benjamin P. Moore (1813-1873) who married Sarah Cooper (1815-1899) for whom the coverlet was made. The Moores originated from Hackensack, New Jersey.

Tied Beiderwand Coverlet

Woven by George W. Lashels, 1847 Huntington Township, Lorain County, Ohio

This tied Beiderwand coverlet features a delightful border of churches and other buildings flanked by flowers and stars. The center field is composed of repeating motifs of stars surrounded by a laurel wreath and diamonds with four hearts joined in a clover pattern. Each corner block contains the client’s name, the weaver’s name, the location of his shop and the year of manufacture. The coverlet was woven in two pieces and sewn together. Note that the weaver ran out of gray wool so one side is woven with tan wool only.

George W. Lashels lived in New York between 1833 and 1840 and then moved to Ohio about 1840. He is listed in the 1850 Ohio Census as a 44-year-old weaver. The coverlet was woven for Minerva M. Waugh, an ancestor of Albert E. Waugh, Provost of the University of Connecticut from 1950 to 1965.

Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet

Dated October 17th, 1833 Norristown Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet
Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet. Woven by Leonard Metz for E. Jones Dated October 17th, 1833. Norristown Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

This coverlet features a patriotic border of eagles, stars and trees. Each corner block contains the client’s name, the weaver’s name, coverlet number and date. Two other extant coverlets by Leonard Metz are numbered and dated in similar fashion.  It is believed that the numbers indicate the order of production and the date shows when each coverlet was completed.

Leonard Metz (1810-1885) was the eldest son in a family of weavers in Norristown Township in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  Both his father and his grandfather were also weavers. In 1832, George and Jonathan Conger sold the patent rights to their new “weaving machine” for producing figured coverlets and carpets to Leonard Metz, Solomon Hausman, Solomon Kuter, and Jacob Hausman. Metz advertised in the Norristown Herald that “He is now enabled to weave almost any pattern which may be requested. Those who may please to favor him in his line can have their names wove in their cloths.”

Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet

Possibly woven at Auburn Prison or by New York weavers Daniel Conger or James Van Ness, c. 1850

Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet
Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet. Possibly woven at Auburn Prison or by New York weavers Daniel Conger or James Van Ness, c. 1850.

This coverlet features a central field of floral medallions surrounded by a chain of intertwining foliage, berries and birds. This is a carpet pattern coverlet, so called because its pattern resembles those found on ingrain carpets of this period. In fact, many coverlet weavers also wove carpeting.

Coverlets of this particular pattern are known to have been made at Auburn Prison in Cayuga County, New York. A weaving workshop was established at the prison shortly after it opened in 1817. However most of the coverlets made at Auburn Prison used the tied-Beiderwand weave structure, not the double weave found in this one.

A closely related pattern called “Bird of Paradise” was also produced at the prison as well as by Daniel Conger and James Van Ness, both weavers in Wayne County, New York. By 1850, both Conger and Van Ness had acquired looms that were capable of producing a seamless coverlet such as this one. Those firmly attributed to Auburn Prison have a center seam.

Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet - detail
Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet. Undyed cotton and indigo wool. Pattern: Snowballs and Snowflakes with Pine Tree border. Weaver unknown.
Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet - detail
Double Weave Jacquard Coverlet. Undyed cotton and indigo wool. Pattern: Puritan Maiden or Lisbon Star with Pine Tree border. Weaver unknown.

These two coverlets are variations on the same theme.  The weavers used some common elements – snowball and snowflake motifs and pine tree borders – but the results are quite different.  Note how the abstract pine trees intersect at the corners to form large plaid blocks.

Tied Beiderwand Coverlet

Woven by Gottlieb Hohulin (1834-1915) Goodfield, Woodford County, Illinois

Tied Beiderwand Coverlet
Tied Beiderwand Coverlet. Woven by Gottlieb Hohulin (1834-1915) Goodfield, Woodford County, Illinois

This coverlet, probably woven in the 1870s, features a large central star medallion on a field of roses and daisies. The rose vine borders are boldly outlined by a Greek key design. In the corner blocks, Hohulin used a bird perched on a tree branch as his “signature.”

Gottlieb Hohulin was born in Teningen, Germany in 1834 and learned weaving from his father. The Hohulins were a family of linen weavers, a tradition going back many generations to the 1600s.

At the age of 22, Gottlieb Hohulin immigrated to America and settled in Illinois. From 1860 to 1871, he, his wife, and his growing family of seven children lived in a log cabin northeast of Goodfield. He worked for some time as a laborer and then resumed weaving. By 1871 he was able to purchase 40 acres of land near his cabin. He farmed in the summer and wove coverlets when he had spare time, earning $5.00 a coverlet. He wove in the barn on his farm and later had a workshop in Goodfield.

On loan from the estate of Esther Holliger Studer, of Sabetha, Kansas, niece of John Hohulin