<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> BAQ Baltimore Album Quilt History

Baltimore Album Quilts

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In the 1840s, when fabrics made in the United States were still relatively basic, the world's finest fabrics started arriving in the country's eastern ports.

Wax-glazed cottons called chintzes, with deeply saturated, precisely printed flowers, vines, and other patterns, were like catnip to East Coast quilters who could afford them.

Style 3

 Click for Style 1
Click for Style 2
....To be added

These needlewomen cut the images from the cloth and appliquéd them to background fabric, a technique known as Broderie Perse.

For dimensional effects for sails, ocean waves, fruit, birds, and so forth, there were new fabrics dyed into gradations of dark and light hues.

Such fabrics were called fondues then and are called ombrés now. Today's quilters sometimes mimic fondues with fabric paint to get the small scale of a single block. For a traditional ship, for example, might be 12 to 20 inches square.

Also new in the 1840s was brownish-black indelible ink, which the ladies used for sayings, names, dates, Bible verses, and drawings.

Style 2 quilt Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum.

Virtually all Baltimore Albums included two rich, durable colors that quilters call turkey red and poison green. "Turkey" meant the country, not the bird, and "poison" was literal, since the dye was made with arsenic.

Only some 300 Baltimore Album quilts were made over about ten years, from 1845 to 1855. The style ended definitively after the Civil War began. The Union states foreswore fabrics from England, which, because of its textile industry, sided with the South, the source of most of its cotton.

The quilts were made largely in Baltimore — hence the name — and they're called albums because they were collections of blocks made by groups of friends. The quilts were made to honor pastors, ship captains, and others who were respected in the community. Many were made by Methodist women, whose pastors were traditionally itinerant, and who stayed in a single parish only up to two years.

Only three to six people are responsible for Baltimore Albums' block designs. Mary Simon was one of them, and at least one researcher credits her with inventing Style I — the classic, fancy style full of ships and eagles and vases of flowers. The fanciest vases are called epergnes (ep-PURNz). There are also cornucopias, government buildings with the American flag flying, and more.

Mary Simon emigrated in 1839 with her daughter, her husband following in 1844. She was Roman Catholic, and one researcher suggests that her designs were sold as kits. A three-looped blue bow was one of her hallmarks. Another Style I designer, Mary Evans, was a Methodist woman active in a church in Baltimore.

The folk-inspired Style 2 has one foot in Maryland and the other in Pennsylvania. Its key influence is a German tradition of precision papercutting that quilters still use today for appliqué blocks.

Style III is said to be the work of Jewish women from central Europe, in part because they are made by individuals and in part because they included fabrics — tweed and velvet — and colors — orchid and salmon — that don't appear in other Baltimore Album styles.

Our sources include Ronda McAllen's article "Jewish Baltimore Album Quilts," published in 2006 in Uncoverings, the journal of the American Quilt Study Group.