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Coverlets, Not Bedspreads.

What is the difference between a bedspread and a coverlet? A bedspread is all-encompassing and usually drapes well over the side of the mattress/box spring, covering the bed skirt or dust ruffle. A coverlet is a bed covering that drapes over the sides of the bed, reaching but not covering the bed skirt/dust ruffle.

The two coverlets featured in this column are both “overshot”; meaning a weave structure of plain-weave cloth (cotton) with a decorative supplementary weft that lies on top, or floats over the plain-weave. The pattern weft overshoots the ground warp and weft webbing. If you pull out all of the pattern weft threads, you are left with a plain weave cloth formed by the warp and the tabby weft. Plain woven undyed cotton warp and a weft featuring repeating geometric patterns created with a supplementary of dyed wool.

Overshot weaving as design was fostered in rural southern Appalachia (Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina; the Blue Ridge section as well as a forested land) on a simple four harness loom. The four harness loom was the primary tool of hand-weavers in the region into the early 20th century.

The invention of the Jacquard loom (1801 by Jacques Marie Jacquard), the success of chemical dyes (William H. Perkin, 1st color was mauve, 1856)), and the post Civil War revitalization (reconstruction of destroyed Southern mills) of milled yarns, changed the look of coverlets entirely. While the southern states were struggling to rebuild from the devastation of the war, the New England textile mills were producing pictorial and curvilinear (curved lines). By the 1870's, despite the technological progress made, the weavers of Southern Appalachia continued to weave for at least another hundred years using single strand, hand spun, irregular wool yarn that was dyed with vegetable matter, by choice. (Smithsonian Institute, Encyclopedia Britannica, Science and Industry Museum, UK; and Tegan Frisino, “A Brief History of Overshot Weaving”)

These early overshot designs were focused on repeating geometric patterns and like favorite recipes, designs were often handed down through the generations. The two coverlets shared here are estimated to date between 1800 and 1860.

Blue & Cream Coverlet. This pattern can almost make you dizzy if you look at it to closely. The coverlet has been handed down through the Conway family for several generations. It’s first owner was Mary Ann Wallace Conway Davis (1849-1921). Mary Ann was the daughter of Battaile Fitzhugh Taliaferro Conway (9/14/1814-7/14/1897) and Cornelia Sappphira Conway (2/7/1822-2/6/1895). Following her paternal genealogy from Battaile Conway, Catlett Conway, Jr., Captain Catlett Conway, stopping at Francis Conway (12/27/1722-5/17/1761) you have reached the brother of Eleanor Rose Conway (“Nelly”); mother of James Madison, Jr.

The coverlet was donated by Mildred Conway Jones & Mary Stevens in 1984.

Multi-Color Coverlet. Plain woven undyed cotton warp and a weft featuring repeating geometric patterns created with a supplementary of dyed wool. The coverlet was purchased by Robert Higgins, Sr. “sometime” in the 1800s at an estate sale at Montpelier, it was passed down through the Higgins then Acree and Childs family until donated by Mr. Leslie Acree Childs in 1981.

I know I've mentioned in a much earlier blog just how much fun the research of an artifact can be when you learn the human history to enrich the story.

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