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Ely & Walker reproduction calicos

Unless you've handled the original 19th century calicos, it's easy to mistakenly conclude a quilt is from the 1890s when it's actually at least half a century newer, made with prints from Ely & Walker's mid-20th century "Quaker Chintz" line of percales. (For an excellent overview of these and other E&W prints, visit Joan Kiplinger's Vintage Fabrics site on www.fabrics.net.)  Availalble in 36" and later 45" width from at least 1937 until the company closed its doors in the mid-1980s, the line can accurately be called ubiquitous.  During the 1950s-70s, Quaker Chintzes were among the few fabrics whose design and weight were appropriate for "traditional" quilting. They also appeared in many popular post-1950 quilt kits such as Paragon's 1960s  "Garden Bouquet" at right, which also came in a red colorway. (Click the image for a closeup of the fabrics from the red version, which more than one has  mistaken for a 19th century applique quilt.)

The "Quaker Chintz" name is a marketing fantasy. "Chintz" quite reasonably came from the original, if defunct, use of the word (derived from the Gujarati chint, any small print on lightweight cotton). But "Quaker" is incongruous; Quaker gowns (and thus quilts) were typically pieced of silk in muted solid colors. 

In the top row at left are swatches of original c.1890 calicoes I took from yardage with selvage widths in the pre-WWI 18-24" width. Below them are their 1937-1985 E&W reproductions (in 36-45" selvage width), from the swatchbook in Kiplinger's article. E&W's yellow is close to 19th century chrome yellow - but the double pink has a chalky, blueish cast nothing like the original madder pink it copied.  (For more c.1890-1915 calicos, click here.)

Fortunately, the texture of the E&W fabric is unmistakably different:  it's a very fine percale which E&W called Quadriga Cloth, smoother,  more tightly woven, and thus slightly beefier than the originals.  In the image at right, compare the weave of three 19th century calicos (in pink) with that of Quadriga cloth (in green).  

Even better, a quilt with one Quaker Chintz print is bound to contain more - including those in contemporary (and thus anachronistic) designs and colorways. Pre-WWII examples closely resemble classic 1930s prints, but designs from the 1950s-80s have the same nostalgic and inauthentic feel as the "Colonial" decor popular during those years.   

One of the most common of these later prints consists of carefully spaced symmetrical flowers in yellow and white with lacy black stems and leaves on a ground of red, medium blue, olive, or medium brown (the last two hues a postwar innovation).  It appears in the 1985 advertisement shown above (click to enlarge), and also in the border of the Pennsylvania quilt pictured below, which uses Quaker Chintzes in a traditional Pennsylvania German color palette.


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