Indigo, Madder, and Writing Backwards

There are still a few days left to enter the Handwoven for the Home Design Challenge (the last day to enter is March 21) so here is one more installment in our household textile BeWeave It series. For our last entry we’re going to focus on the “someday” project of many a weaver: the coverlet.

In the United States, coverlets have been used since the colonial period. They were typically woven from homespun linen or wool which was often dyed with madder or indigo—which explains why the “traditional” colors for a coverlet are blue and reddish. Coverlets were used as the top layer of bedding to add a decorative touch, a bit of extra warmth, and as a layer of protection of the bedding beneath.

These coverlets were originally woven in the home using a 4-shaft loom, typically in overshot, summer and winter, or doubleweave. As not all households had looms, women would sometimes weave extras for bartering and it would not be uncommon to find professional weavers in villages as well.

By the 1820s professional weavers dominated the coverlet scene with their Jacquard looms. The new looms created intricate patterns—including words and phrases—onto the cloth. Many weavers used this to "sign" their cloth. These coverlets were designed to be reversible so if you’ve ever wondered why the woven inscriptions were written both backwards and forwards it was so they could be read regardless of what side of the coverlet was used as the “right”side. 

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