Among the myriad things my Mom had kept over the years was one small box labeled Dad’s Christening. My Dad was born in 1912, so these items are at least 99 years old. But he had several siblings both older and younger, and I suspect some of those babies may have used them as well.
In the box is a modest christening dress in ill repair, apparently store-bought and not made at home. A simple touch of a finger caused some of the yellowing fabric to disintegrate. The real little treasure in the box is a small baby quilt. Made of a lovely, babyish print in cadet blue and white, it is all hand stitched. It is simply a top with a backing, and the batting appears to merely be another layer of the backing fabric. A perfect size for swaddling, and in pretty good shape, considering its age and that it has not always been carefully stored.
Cadet blue, a lighter shade than the more common indigo, was first seen in quilts around 1900. This dye was made from the newly developed synthetic indigo. The high cost of natural indigo had led several fabric manufacturers to employ chemists to develop alternative dyes. In the late 1860’s Adolf von Baeyer¹ created the first such indigo replacement, but it was a cumbersome process that did not take well to mass use. He sold his patent to others who refined it to a practical product just before 1900. Von Baeyer was a true innovator and some of his experiments led to the first barbiturates. He also developed simple plastics concurrently with others, and he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1905.
There are various values of cadet blue, from vibrant to pale, and it was very popular until the 1920’s. The retro prints we often associate with the early 1900’s are often those from 1920-1940, with many clear colors that shed the darker tones seen in the quilts of the late 1800’s. Cadet blue may have been first synthetic dye that made all these other new dyes possible.
In the nearly 100 years since my Dad used this little blue quilt, synthetic fabric dyes have grown to be the most commonly used dyes for cottons. I treasure this little gem, but not only because it was my Dad’s. It was the first quilt that made me think about the history of the fabric used, and started me on my curious quest to learn more about fabrics.
Reference: 1 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_von_Baeyer
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