History and Construction

Coverlet Structures

Overshot: The earliest coverlets were woven using an overshot weave. There is a ground cloth of plain weave linen or cotton with a supplementary pattern weft, usually of dyed wool, added to create a geometric pattern based on simple combinations of blocks. The weaver creates the pattern by raising and lowering the pattern weft with treadles to create vibrant, reversible geometric patterns. Overshot coverlets could be woven domestically by men or women on simple four-shaft looms, and the craft persists to this day.

Summer-and-Winter: This structure is a type of overshot with strict rules about supplementary pattern weft float distances. The weft yarns float over no more than two warp yarns. This creates a denser fabric with a tighter weave. Summer-and-Winter is so named because one side of the coverlet features more wool than the other, thus giving the coverlet a summer side and a winter side. This structure may be an American invention. Its origins are somewhat mysterious, but it seems to have evolved out of a British weaving tradition.

Twill: Twill along with plain and satin weave is one of the three simple weave structures. Twill is created by repetition of a regular ratio of warp and weft floats, usually 1:2, 1:3, or 2:4. Twill weave is identifiable by the diagonal orientation of the weave structure. This diagonal can be reversed and combined to create herringbone and diamond effects in the weave.

Double Cloth: Usually associated with professional weavers, double cloth is formed from two plain weave fabrics that swap places with one another, interlocking the textile and creating the pattern. Coverlet weavers initially used German, geometric, block-weaving patterns to create decorative coverlets and ingrain carpeting. These coverlets contain twice the yarn and are twice as heavy as other coverlets.

Beiderwand: Weavers in Northern Germany and Southern Denmark first used this structure in the seventeenth century to weave bed curtains and textiles for clothing. Beiderwand is an integrated structure, and the design alternates sections of warp-faced and weft-faced plain weave. Beiderwand coverlets can be either true Beiderwand or the more common tied-Beiderwand. This structure is identifiable by the ribbed appearance of the textile created by the addition of a supplementary binding warp.

Figured and Fancy: Although not a structure in its own right, Figured and Fancy coverlets can be identified by the appearance of curvilinear designs and woven inscriptions. Weavers could use a variety of technologies and structures to create them including, the cylinder loom, Jacquard mechanism, or weft-loop patterning. Figured and Fancy coverlets were the preferred style throughout much of the nineteenth century. Their manufacture was an important economic and industrial engine in rural America.

Multi-harness/Star and Diamond: This group of coverlets is characterized not by the structure but by the intricacy of patterning. Usually executed in overshot, Beiderwand, or geometric double cloth, these coverlets were made almost all made in Eastern Pennsylvania by professional weavers on looms with between twelve and twenty-six shafts.

Coverlet Weaving Regions

New England

America’s earliest coverlets were woven in New England, usually in overshot patterns and by women working collectively to produce textiles for their own homes and for sale locally. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book, Age of Homespun examines this pre-Revolutionary economy in which women shared labor, raw materials, and textile equipment to supplement family incomes. As the nineteenth century approached and textile mills emerged first in New England, new groups of European immigrant weavers would arrive in New England before moving westward to cheaper available land and spread industrialization to America’s rural interior.

New York/New Jersey

The coverlets from New York and New Jersey are among the earliest Figured and Fancy coverlets. NMAH possesses the earliest Figured and Fancy coverlet (dated 1817), made on Long Island by an unknown weaver. These coverlets are associated primarily with Scottish and Scots-Irish immigrant weavers who were recruited from Britain to provide a skilled workforce for America’s earliest woolen textile mills, and then established their own businesses. New York and New Jersey coverlets are primarily blue and white, double cloth and feature refined Neoclassical and Victorian motifs. Long Island and the Finger Lakes region of New York as well as Bergen County, New Jersey were major centers of coverlet production.

Pennsylvania/Mid-Atlantic

German immigrant weavers influenced the coverlets of Pennsylvania, Virginia (including West Virginia) and Maryland. Tied-Beiderwand was the structure preferred by most weavers. Horizontal color-banding, German folk motifs like the Distelfinken (thistle finch), and eight-point star and sunbursts are common. Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic coverlets tend to favor the inscribed cornerblock complete with weaver’s name, location, date, and customer. There were many regionalized woolen mills and factories throughout Pennsylvania. Most successful of these were Philip Schum and Sons in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Chatham’s Run Factory, owned by John Rich and better known today as Woolrich Woolen Mills.

Midwest/Ohio and Indiana

Coverlet weavers were among some of the earliest European settler in the Northwest Territories. After helping to clear the land and establish agriculture, these weavers focused their attentions on establishing mills and weaving operations with local supplies, for local markets. This economic pattern helped introduce the American interior to an industrial economy. It also allowed the weaver to free himself and his family from traditional, less-favorable urban factory life. New land in Ohio and Indiana enticed weavers from the New York and Mid-Atlantic traditions to settle in the Northwest Territories. As a result, coverlets from this region hybridized, blending the fondness for color found in Pennsylvania coverlets with the refinement of design and Scottish influence of the New York coverlets.

South/Appalachia

Southern coverlets almost always tended to be woven in overshot patterns. Traditional hand-weaving also survived longest in the South. Southern Appalachian women were still weaving overshot coverlets at the turn of the twentieth century. These women and their coverlets helped in inspire a wave of Settlement Schools and mail-order cottage industries throughout the Southern Appalachian region, inspiring and contributing to Colonial Revival design and the Handicraft Revival. Before the Civil War, enslaved labor was often used in the production of Southern coverlets, both to grow and process the raw materials, and to transform those materials into a finished product.

Coverlets & American Industrialization

Because so many coverlets have been passed down as family heirlooms, retaining documentation on their maker or users, they provide a visual catalog of America’s path toward and response to industrialization. Coverlet weavers have sometimes been categorized as artisan weavers fighting to keep a traditional craft alive. New research, however, is showing that many of these weavers were on the forefront of industry in rural America. Many coverlet weavers began their American odyssey as immigrants, recruited from European textile factories—along with their families—to help establish industrial mills in America. Families saved their money, bought cheaper land in America’s rural interior and took their mechanical skills and ideas about industrial organization into the American heartland. Once there, these weavers found options. They could operate as weaver-farmers, own a small workshop, partner with a local carding mill, or open their own small, regional factories. They were quick to embrace new weaving technologies, including power looms, and frequently advertised in local newspapers. Coverlet weavers created small pockets of residentiary industry that relied on a steady flow of European-trained immigrants. These small factories remained successful until after the Civil War when the railroads made mass-produced, industrial goods more readily available nationwide.

This project was made possible by a grant from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

J.J. Heilbronn Figured and Fancy Coverlet Fragment, 1840. Red, white & blue jacquard double weave, no visible fringe. 1. (border) potted flowers & birds 2. (center) double rose & snowflakes. John Jacob Heilbronn, was born June 15, 1815 in Alsace, France.
Description
J.J. Heilbronn Figured and Fancy Coverlet Fragment, 1840. Red, white & blue jacquard double weave, no visible fringe. 1. (border) potted flowers & birds 2. (center) double rose & snowflakes. John Jacob Heilbronn, was born June 15, 1815 in Alsace, France. He married January 9, 1840, Phebe Weaver in Fairfield, OH. He died July 8, 1887.
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1840
weaver
Heilbronn, J.J.
ID Number
TE.T14712
catalog number
T14712.000
accession number
280847
Red, white, and blue Jacquard woven or Figured and Fancy coverlet in single weave. Double roses motifs framed by cut-cornered rectangles regularly repeated in bands and rows; separated by rows of dots and with rosettes in octagon frames.
Description
Red, white, and blue Jacquard woven or Figured and Fancy coverlet in single weave. Double roses motifs framed by cut-cornered rectangles regularly repeated in bands and rows; separated by rows of dots and with rosettes in octagon frames. The inner border consists of vase forms alternating with flowers; Outer borders have a double diamond and dot repeated. Outer border is along all four sides, the inner border is not. Between the two borders the word Pennsylvania is repeated over and over, forwardsand backwards. The lower corner on the right says "This coverlet belongs to me Susana Diehl 1842" . The corner on the left says" S.B.Musselman Coverlet Weaver Milford Bucks. Co 1842". This coverlet is woven with a compound, plain weave base. Warp and ground weft yarns are Z-twist single ply cotton. The pattern weft is red and blue twist single ply wool. Samuel Beidler Musselman was born June 9, 1802 to Jacob and Barbara Beidler Musselman in Milford, Bucks Co. PA. He married ca. 1824 Elizabeth Landis (1798-1873). They had eleven children. He died August 7, 1874, in Bucks Co. PA. After 1837 all of his coverlets were seamless. While he numbered many of his coverlets, he did not number this one.
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1842
weaver
Musselman, S.B.
ID Number
1980.0859.01
accession number
1980.0859
catalog number
1980.0859.01
Weft-faced plain weave fragment of a coverlet with one selvage. Weft-faced plain weave in which alternate weft colors are densely packed to from vertical stripes in blocks.
Description
Weft-faced plain weave fragment of a coverlet with one selvage. Weft-faced plain weave in which alternate weft colors are densely packed to from vertical stripes in blocks. The coverlet was made of single ply z-twist pale yellow linen and the weft is red, indigo and pale yellow single ply z twist wool. The linen warp is completely covered by the weft. It is so unusual to have a hidden linen warp in a color, that the cataloger wondered if the piece was dipped in yellow dye after it was made.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
late 18th century
late 18th century ?
ID Number
1979.1217.01
accession number
1979.1217
catalog number
1979.1217.01
This red, blue, and white, Figured and Fancy, 4:1 tied-Beiderwand coverlet features a “Double Rose” carpet medallion centerfield design with six-pointed stars. The border design is a vernacular interpretation of floral urn.
Description
This red, blue, and white, Figured and Fancy, 4:1 tied-Beiderwand coverlet features a “Double Rose” carpet medallion centerfield design with six-pointed stars. The border design is a vernacular interpretation of floral urn. The coverlet measures 86 inches by 68.5 inches and is constructed from two panels that were woven as one length, cut, and sewn up the center. The center seam is sewn with linen thread. There is fringe along the lower edge. The colors are used as stripes in the overall pattern, indicating a possible Pennsylvania origin. The date 1843 is woven into the corner. There is no maker’s name or trademark on the coverlet. The space for the customer’s information was left blank except for the date. This could be an example of ready-made production that was sold through general stores which served as pick-up and ordering locations for weavers and their manufactories. Contemporary newspapers advertisements of the time commonly list several different locations surrounding the weaver for customers to place orders, drop of wool or yarn, and collect their coverlets.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1843
maker
unknown
ID Number
2011.0148.06
accession number
2011.0148
catalog number
2011.0148.06
Italian immigrant, Angela DiSilbio wove this blue, red, and white, overshot coverlet in Italy c. 1900 before immigrating to the United States. It has passed down through the family and was donated by the maker’s granddaughter.
Description
Italian immigrant, Angela DiSilbio wove this blue, red, and white, overshot coverlet in Italy c. 1900 before immigrating to the United States. It has passed down through the family and was donated by the maker’s granddaughter. The coverlet measures 105 inches by 89 inches.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
c. 1900
ID Number
1994.0144.01
catalog number
1994.0144.01
accession number
1994.0144
Workers at the Rawlins Mill in Seaford, Sussex County, Delaware wove this overshot coverlet with center seam down and applied fringe along three sides. The coverlet was woven from cotton and red and blue wool yarns.
Description
Workers at the Rawlins Mill in Seaford, Sussex County, Delaware wove this overshot coverlet with center seam down and applied fringe along three sides. The coverlet was woven from cotton and red and blue wool yarns. DeLevan Rawlins Bowen donated this coverlet, along with 2005.0042.02 and 2005.0042.03. According to the National Register for Historic Places report, the Hearn and Rawlins Mill, as it is known today, has operated in various capacities since 1820. The building that currently stands on the site was built in 1880 and used as a grist mill. Lot Rawlins and John Morgan Rawlins, ancestors of the donor, started and owned the mill. The family moved from England to Delaware in 1747. The mill was water-powered and located along the Nanticoke River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
late 19th early 20th century
ID Number
2005.0042.01
catalog number
2005.0042.01
accession number
2005.0042
Fragment of a 10-harness, overshot coverlet weave of cotton and wool with pattern made up of squares, triangles, and diamonds, in red, white and blue.Because of the donor, Mrs.
Description
Fragment of a 10-harness, overshot coverlet weave of cotton and wool with pattern made up of squares, triangles, and diamonds, in red, white and blue.
Because of the donor, Mrs. Allen's, importance in teaching and preserving early handweaving, and the use of materials she collected in books on the subject, NMAH should keep the fragments she donated in the collection, as part of the national woven coverlet collection.
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
TE.T04819.000
catalog number
T04819.000
accession number
71965
Fragment of a coverlet; Blue & white; cotton and wool; ribbed Jacquard, weave with a pattern composed of large detached figures which in outline suggests a crab, no fringe visible. 1. (border) none visible, piece too small 2. (center) medallions.Because of the donor, Mrs.
Description
Fragment of a coverlet; Blue & white; cotton and wool; ribbed Jacquard, weave with a pattern composed of large detached figures which in outline suggests a crab, no fringe visible. 1. (border) none visible, piece too small 2. (center) medallions.
Because of the donor, Mrs. Allen's, importance in teaching and preserving early handweaving, and the use of materials she collected in books on the subject, NMAH should keep the fragments she donated in the collection, as part of the national woven coverlet collection.
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
TE.T4905
catalog number
T04905.000
accession number
071965
Fragment of an overshot coverlet. Blue and white; cotton and wool; 4-harness overshot block pattern woven on "opposites."Currently not on view
Description
Fragment of an overshot coverlet. Blue and white; cotton and wool; 4-harness overshot block pattern woven on "opposites."
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
TE.T04893.000
catalog number
T04893.000
accession number
71965
Fragment of a 4-harness, overshot coverlet weave with fine cotton warp and weft; the overshot pattern in blue and rose woll yarn forming figured weft stripes.Because of the donor, Mrs.
Description
Fragment of a 4-harness, overshot coverlet weave with fine cotton warp and weft; the overshot pattern in blue and rose woll yarn forming figured weft stripes.
Because of the donor, Mrs. Allen's, importance in teaching and preserving early handweaving, and the use of materials she collected in books on the subject, NMAH should keep the fragments she donated in the collection, as part of the national woven coverlet collection.
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
TE.T04925.000
catalog number
T04925.000
accession number
71965
Piece of a jacquard woven coverlet with name, "H. W. Tilton" and date, "1835"--made into a pot holder.Because of the donor, Mrs.
Description
Piece of a jacquard woven coverlet with name, "H. W. Tilton" and date, "1835"--made into a pot holder.
Because of the donor, Mrs. Allen's, importance in teaching and preserving early handweaving, and the use of materials she collected in books on the subject, NMAH should keep the fragments she donated in the collection, as part of the national woven coverlet collection.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1835
ID Number
TE.T04818.000
catalog number
T04818.000
accession number
71965
Coverlet fragment; jacquard; Charles Melly, Ohio, 1839. Fragment from a jacquard, single weave coverlet. Pink and white, no fringe visible. 1. (border) double bird & roses 2. (center) flower medallion.Currently not on view
Description
Coverlet fragment; jacquard; Charles Melly, Ohio, 1839. Fragment from a jacquard, single weave coverlet. Pink and white, no fringe visible. 1. (border) double bird & roses 2. (center) flower medallion.
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1839
weaver
Meily, Charles
ID Number
1979.0897.002
accession number
1979.0897
catalog number
1979.0897.0002.000
4-harness, overshot weave: "Sun, Moon, and Start" developed in blue, rose, and tan mercerized cotton yarns. Weaver: Miss Sallie Dougherty, Russellville, TN. Mrs. Mary M. Atwater called this pattern "The Whig Rose."Currently not on view
Description
4-harness, overshot weave: "Sun, Moon, and Start" developed in blue, rose, and tan mercerized cotton yarns. Weaver: Miss Sallie Dougherty, Russellville, TN. Mrs. Mary M. Atwater called this pattern "The Whig Rose."
Location
Currently not on view
date made
ca. 1910
ID Number
TE.T04948.000
catalog number
T04948.000
accession number
71965
Blue and white jacquard woven coverlet with the date 1841 in each corner. It is woven in two sections, and has a center seam sewn with linen thread.Currently not on view
Description
Blue and white jacquard woven coverlet with the date 1841 in each corner. It is woven in two sections, and has a center seam sewn with linen thread.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1841
maker
unknown
ID Number
2011.0148.04
accession number
2011.0148
catalog number
2011.0148.04
Fragment of a geometric double-cloth coverlet. Blue and burnt orange wool, geometric, double-woven or double-cloth, all wool, coverlet fragment. This cloth has two layers, and the layers are connected by threads which go through to the other side to form the design on that side.
Description
Fragment of a geometric double-cloth coverlet. Blue and burnt orange wool, geometric, double-woven or double-cloth, all wool, coverlet fragment. This cloth has two layers, and the layers are connected by threads which go through to the other side to form the design on that side. The designs therefore are exactly the same only reversed in color. The design is geometric. The middle consists of a cross. Around the outside of the cross are eight squarish crosses. There are 4 small squares at each corner. The space between these shapes is the square cross. There are 9 of these designs evenly spaced out over the entire piece. The repeat measures 4 5/8 " x 5". The coverlet is made with 2 ply s twist wool. The yarn count is 17 x17. The repeat of the design measures 4 5/8 " x 5".
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1800--1850
d
ID Number
1980.0550.001
accession number
1980.0550
catalog number
1980.0550.01
Jacquard woven, white cotton and linen single weave coverlet. Unusual stylized vegetation in repeats of alternating stripes. One consists of stylized flowers in a footed 'bowl". the other has melon shaped vegetation coming out of another footed container. Repeat 12.5" x 16.5" w.
Description
Jacquard woven, white cotton and linen single weave coverlet. Unusual stylized vegetation in repeats of alternating stripes. One consists of stylized flowers in a footed 'bowl". the other has melon shaped vegetation coming out of another footed container. Repeat 12.5" x 16.5" w. Side borders are 6 3.4" deep and the lower border is 7 1/2" deep. There is a star motif in each of the lower corner boxes. The coverlet was purchased in Pennsylvania. It could have been made in Pennsylvania or Maryland. Andrew Krump of Hanover Pa. used some of the same motifs as seen in this coverlet. Ten other coverlets made of cotton and linen have been seen.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
first half 19th century
maker
unknown
ID Number
1985.0381.07
accession number
1985.0381
catalog number
1985.0381.07
Red and white jacquard woven coverlet with Birds of Paradise pattern among those used. there is no date woven in.Currently not on view
Description
Red and white jacquard woven coverlet with Birds of Paradise pattern among those used. there is no date woven in.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1830-1850
maker
unknown
ID Number
2011.0148.03
accession number
2011.0148
catalog number
2011.0148.03
Blue and white, jacquard, double-woven coverlet woven in two 40 1/2 inch wide panels, and sewn together. the design features a modified version of "Lilies and Stars", with a "Tree and Eagles border." The lower corners bear the weaver's mark and the inscription "B.
Description
Blue and white, jacquard, double-woven coverlet woven in two 40 1/2 inch wide panels, and sewn together. the design features a modified version of "Lilies and Stars", with a "Tree and Eagles border." The lower corners bear the weaver's mark and the inscription "B. Vaneps,1838, Bethany, Genesee County, N.Y." The coverlet has an applied fringe finish on 3 edges.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1838
ID Number
TE.T001636.Y
catalog number
T01636.00Y
accession number
168536
Coverlet fragment. Plain weave, overshot; dark blue wool, beige cotton, geometric design. Yarn count 40 x 40. One selvage is present. The design is formed by blue weft floats on a plain weave. The pattern is geometric.
Description
Coverlet fragment. Plain weave, overshot; dark blue wool, beige cotton, geometric design. Yarn count 40 x 40. One selvage is present. The design is formed by blue weft floats on a plain weave. The pattern is geometric. There is a rectangle in the middle with 4 lines coming out of the corners. There is a long oblong shape beside, above, and below each of these x shapes. On this piece, there are four separate units with the lines coming together in the center. The pattern repeat measures 3.25 x 3.75". The yarns are fine which give the piece a very delicate overall look. The selvage is rather uneven.
Location
Currently not on view
date made
19th century
ID Number
1980.0550.003
accession number
1980.0550
catalog number
1980.0550.03
Fragment or pillow piece; weave: Summer and Winter, Yarns: ground weft & warp; whitte 3-ply S-twist cotton, Pattern weft: dark blue, 2-ply S-twist wool, self fringe at each end, pattern a simple wheelCurrently not on view
Description
Fragment or pillow piece; weave: Summer and Winter, Yarns: ground weft & warp; whitte 3-ply S-twist cotton, Pattern weft: dark blue, 2-ply S-twist wool, self fringe at each end, pattern a simple wheel
Location
Currently not on view
date made
late 19th century
ID Number
TE.T15488.000
catalog number
T15488.000
accession number
294051
Fragment of a blue and white, cotton and wool, double woven coverlet, with an Irish chain design. The donor, Mrs. Laura M. Allen, was Director of Weaving in Mechanics' Institute, Rochester, N.Y.Because of the donor, Mrs.
Description
Fragment of a blue and white, cotton and wool, double woven coverlet, with an Irish chain design. The donor, Mrs. Laura M. Allen, was Director of Weaving in Mechanics' Institute, Rochester, N.Y.
Because of the donor, Mrs. Allen's, importance in teaching and preserving early handweaving, and the use of materials she collected in books on the subject, NMAH should keep the fragments she donated in the collection, as part of the national woven coverlet collection.
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
TE.T04906.000
catalog number
T04906.000
accession number
71965
Fragment or sample of a 4-harness overshot coverlet: "Sun, Moon, and Stars," woven with fine, bleached cotton warp and weft yarns, overshot with white angora wool yarn, by a melungeon woman 75 years of age in 1924, a native of Clinch Mountain District, TN. Mrs. Mary M.
Description
Fragment or sample of a 4-harness overshot coverlet: "Sun, Moon, and Stars," woven with fine, bleached cotton warp and weft yarns, overshot with white angora wool yarn, by a melungeon woman 75 years of age in 1924, a native of Clinch Mountain District, TN. Mrs. Mary M. Atwater would call the pattern "The Whig Rose."
Location
Currently not on view
date made
1924
ID Number
TE.T04947.000
catalog number
T04947.000
accession number
71965
Fragment of a coverlet; Diamond and square pattern of cotton and wool yarns interlacing in a way to cause depressions and elevations of warp and weft which produces a honeycomb-like fabric. Colors: red, tan and white.Because of the donor, Mrs.
Description
Fragment of a coverlet; Diamond and square pattern of cotton and wool yarns interlacing in a way to cause depressions and elevations of warp and weft which produces a honeycomb-like fabric. Colors: red, tan and white.
Because of the donor, Mrs. Allen's, importance in teaching and preserving early handweaving, and the use of materials she collected in books on the subject, NMAH should keep the fragments she donated in the collection, as part of the national woven coverlet collection.
Location
Currently not on view
ID Number
TE.T04926.000
catalog number
T04926.000
accession number
71965
Reproduction sample of an NMAH coverlet, 1980. Large areas of blocks of color. solid rectangles alternating with 2 narrow bars, this row alternates with checker board block, etc. There is a knotted self fringe on one edge.
Description
Reproduction sample of an NMAH coverlet, 1980. Large areas of blocks of color. solid rectangles alternating with 2 narrow bars, this row alternates with checker board block, etc. There is a knotted self fringe on one edge. Sample overshot coverlet reproduced after another coverlet in NMAH's collection, T14896. made by Dr. Joyce Cone in 1980,
Location
Currently not on view
Date made
1980
maker
Cone, Joyce E.
ID Number
1981.0045.003
accession number
1981.0045
catalog number
1981.0045.03

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