Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fugitive purple cotton prints

Often 19 th century purples are referred to as' fugitive'. When you look at a quilt, a garment or a length of cloth, what was once a lovely purple could now be a soft shade of brown. Early 19th century cotton purples would have been dyed with a number of natural dye sources; logwood, seashells or most often madder. The first synthetic dye, Perkins Purple 1856, worked best on wool and silk. A chemical purple dye was available in 1862 but many of the fabrics printed at that time have reacted to both sunlight and humidity, changing to brown. I recently had the wonderful ! opportunity of studying a large group of quilt blocks from the upper Ohio Valley, 1880-1910. Here is one of these blocks. The print is changing from a fairly vibrant purple to that often seen soft brown. You may, depending on your browser, be able to put your cursor on this block and zoom in on the purple print.

I am lecturing on quilts of the late 19th century next Saturday, April 10, 2010, at the conference, Prairie Points and Backstitches, at the Musuem of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT and showing 135 slides, including this one, to illustrate my talk.  If you are interested in attending, please call me at 406-580-3358. 

If you would like me to speak to your organiztion about textiles and quilts of the 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries, please contact me at 406-580-3358 or


  1. I've often wondered about "fugitive" colors. I wish I could attend your lecture but alas, I am in California and not making out to MT anytime soon. Perhaps you come out to Northern California on occasion?

  2. Yes it is fascinating to actually see a purple fabric that is in a state of change to brown!

    I am hoping a group will invite me to speak in California. Another possibility for you is my Textile History School (see link at top of the page) . I have designed it around my lectures and for people who are unable to attend.