Betsy Ross lived in a unique time. Can you imagine living in 1776, or perhaps being a fly on the wall and witnessing some of the major changes and upheavals that were going on at that time? July 4, 1776 marks the founding of the United States of America, but the decades around that time saw many other revolutions unfolding. There were political revolutions brewing in France, parts of Germany (Sorbia/Prussia,) Haiti, and many other places. The Industrial Revolution was not only changing how goods were produced, but also altering the economic and social fiber of society on every level. Many historians consider it the largest socioeconomic and cultural change since the domestication of animals and crop plants.
These fabrics remained strongly influenced by the countries that had inspired them, from designs to dyes. In England and America, the term calico was common, based on the cloths first imported from Calicut, India. Wool, linen, hemp, and other materials remained in heavy use, but their method of manufacture was also changing. The terms that we use today to describe various fabrics began to evolve. In France, many printed cottons were called indiennes (for India fabrics) or toiles imprentis meaning printed cloth. A website about 18th Century living in Australia, A Woodrunner’s Diary has an interesting list of fabric types and terms from that era. Even the language of fabric had to be revised as the Industrial Revolution moved forward.Do you want to create a quilt using fabrics that are close to historically correct for the time of the American Revolution? The interest in living history and historical reenactment means that there are specialized fabric suppliers trying to bring these goods to the market. Most are aimed at clothing reproduction, but many cottons would work well for quilts. Of course, wool would also be an excellent choice for a period quilt. Some sites, such as Reproduction Fabrics, have fabrics as well as a selection of modern fabrics with a similar design. Other sites, like Time Travel Textiles, try to stay true to period with only reproduction fabrics. Hancock’s of Paducah has some fabrics from the Windham Daughters of the American Revolution line. Most of these vendors have a lot of information about historical accuracy of fabric. Search for 18th century reenactments to learn more.
Pam Holland’s book, The 1776 Quilt; Heartache, Heritage, and Happiness, shown above, brings new perspective to the period of time around the American Revolution. The quilt that originally inspired her book was stitched by Sorbian soldiers as they battled the Prussians in what is now Eastern Germany. That revolt was also in 1776, and Holland’s book is the tale of her research and painstaking re-creation of the original quilt.
Click here for references and bibliography.