Many museum collections contain beautiful examples of 19th century coverlets.
Coverlets are usually thought of as more plain and practical than quilts. Early coverlets were simply woven in a basic pattern of one or two colors. As technology evolved, more complex and complicated coverlet patterns became possible.
The first coverlets in America were likely brought over from England with the early settlers. As they wore out, colonists began replacing them using small home looms.
Types of Coverlets
There are four main types of coverlets:
• Double Weave
• Summer and Winter
Overshot coverlets usually have a warp of a natural color linen thread and a weft made of a homespun wool in a single color or shades of the same color. Patterns included stripes, stars and diamonds.
They were always seamed through the middle, often without matching the pattern exactly. Overshot coverlets featured simple designs and were usually made on a small loom in the home.
Double Weave coverlets usually feature a geometric pattern which appears in reverse colors when flipped over. They were typically made between 1725 and 1825.
The Summer and Winter coverlet is a special form of the Double Weave coverlet. It is also reversible. Summer and Winter coverlets were made on a four-harness loom, but the weaver could make a more intricate pattern using a six- or eight-harness loom. Its name possibly originated from its weight -- it was light enough to be used in all seasons.
The Jacquard coverlet was named for Joseph Jacquard who invented a very sophisticated type of loom that allowed weavers to create complex patterns. The Jacquard attachment consisted of a series of cards with large and small holes that activated the harnesses of the loom. The cards are similar to the rolls used in a player piano.
Jacquard coverlets could be made in one piece, and usually featured an elaborate border. This type of coverlet was usually made by a professional weaver on a large loom.
Historians once believed itinerant weavers traveled from town to town with their looms making coverlets for the clients they found along the way.
According to the American Folk Art Museum, historians now believe the looms were too bulky to take apart and travel. Instead, weavers may have traveled to collect spun wool from housewives in nearby towns.
He may have brought a catalog of patterns with him to take orders. He could have made the coverlet on a loom already assembled in town, or taken the order back to his shop for delivery at a later date.
In addition to his own name, a professional weaver often included the name of the town, county or state, as well as the year it was made in one corner of the coverlet.