It has been a chilly last few weeks here in the Netherlands, dry but very cold! Good weather for tackling spring tasks in the garden or for going to a quilt show!
Last Friday I headed off to Amersfoort, a town in the centre of the Netherlands to see an exhibition of reproduction antique Dutch quilts. Amersfoort has a lovely historic town centre, with gate houses from the old town wall, little canals and pretty brick buildings: all the picture book Dutch things.
I parked outside the town centre and walked via the town gates and some very pretty canal-side streets to the central square.
The exhibition was held in the Church of St. George, that has dominated the square for more than 750 years. It is huge, and very impressive! It was market day, and the square was packed with market stalls and shoppers, so it was impossible to get a photo of the exterior, but I did take one of the inside about halfway up the nave, looking towards the altar, which gives an idea of the grandeur of the space.
The exhibition was organised by Dutch quilter Petra Prins, who has just published her second book, with co-author An Moonen, with Quiltmania. The book is called ‘Promenade in a Dutch Castle’ and features reproductions of quilts from the castle at Middachten as well as antique Dutch quilts from An’s own collection. An is one of the Netherlands foremost quilt historians, and Petra runs a quilt shop.
The book features both the original quilts and the reproductions, made from so-called Dutch Heritage fabrics (reproduction Dutch fabrics of the 18th and 19th centuries). The exhibition was of the reproduction quilts that Petra made for the book, as well as some of the historic quilts themselves.
Historically, 18th and 19th century Dutch quilts were composed primarily of half- and quarter-square-triangle blocks (although other blocks, such as 9-patch, hexagons, log cabin etc were used) often with a small medallion or feature block (usually a star) in the centre. Quilts tend to be rectangular rather than square, I guess because beds were a bit narrower in those days!
The HST and QST tended to be light/dark combinations, and were often arranged to create secondary patterns using the light/dark contrast, in much the same way as the settings of log cabin quilts take advantage of the light/dark contrast. Sometimes these secondary patterns were an all-over block-like effect (such as in the photo below) and sometimes they were more border or frame-like, such as a barn-raising effect.
Antique Dutch quilts often have an overall slightly brownish tint, as the dark colours tend to be brown and indigo blues, with the light colours being white, cream and tan based florals; touches of red and pink are also common. Most of the patterns are small florals or larger chintz florals, but every now and then there is a geometric or self-patterned fabric. The fabrics are usually cotton, but sometimes there is a bit of silk here and there in a quilt top.
The colours in reproductions tend to be a little clearer, with a bit more variety, especially with yellows, purples and teal blues. They are authentic period colours too, but they don’t seem to appear as often in the historic quilts that have survived.
The quilts were hung and draped in the side aisles of the church: they were okay to look at, but very hard to photograph, because of the lighting, the height and the fact that some of them were draped over tables, dividing walls and even a piano! The antique quilts were in glass display cases, and were impossible to photograph because of all the reflections. The oldest antique quilt on display was a crib quilt from 1820.
The quilt below is a reproduction of a quilt made in 1796 by Sara Luydenz Luberti when she was 52. Sara was born in Zierikzee in the province of Zeeland, but was living in Amsterdam when she made the quilt.
The little quilt on the table is also a reproduction, a medallion surrounded by blocks in a robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul variation. It is called ‘Caramel Fudge’ in the book, but I don’t know why!
There was an impressively large Melon Patch quilt, based on an antique, draped over a grand piano, and entirely made of Dutch Heritage Fabrics. Dutch reproduction quilts, although usually mostly using Dutch reproduction fabrics, often incorporate American of English reproduction fabrics too: I spotted several of the fabrics that I am using in my reproduction Gypsy Wife. I always enjoy it when I spot a fabric I have in another quilt: it is like meeting an old friend!
There were also two quilts made of tiny hexagons, using English paper piecing. Dutch hexagon quilts tend to date from the middle of the 19th century, when the fashion for them had come across from England.
The hexagons were tiny: 5/8th of an inch! The centres were nearly all fussy-cut to showcase a tiny flower.
There was also a hexagon quilt in an unusual combination of soft yellow, pink and black, draped over a table. It was a reproduction of the most recent of the old quilts: a quilt made by Dutch actor and textile collector Ernest van Vrijberghe de Coningh at the beginning of the 20th century.
It too was made of 5/8″ hexagons.
There was also a spectacular example of fussy cutting in the quilt China Blue Star. The quilt top was made of only two fabrics: a self-patterned blue and a blue flowered chintz. The stars that covered the top were all different; depending on how the diamonds had been cut from the original fabric. A matching border completed the top.
Blue and white star patterns like this are quite common in the Delft tile work in the kitchens of historic houses in the Netherlands, so it is easy to understand how they were adapted to make quilt patterns.
Another, most unusual, quilt had a background of light blue chintz, with an inner border of QST and a ring of hexagons in the middle forming a medallion round one of the flowers on the chintz.
The colouring was lovely – very soft and spring-like.
There were also a couple of small crib quilts. Below a quilt based on the central part of one of the historic quilts from Castle Middachten.
Behind it was hanging another crib quilt. A reproduction (in miniature!) of a quilt dated 1800 from Groningen in far north of the Netherlands. The original quilt, and the reproduction, are very typical of Dutch quilts of the time, both in the colour use and the layout.
But most of the quilts were full size, that is, bed size. The quilt below is a reproduction of one in An Moonen’s own collection, which she first saw in 1993. She loves it, so the ‘new’ version is called ‘An’s Treasure’. The historic quilt, from 1796, has a ‘sister’ in America, now in the International Study Center and Quilt Museum in Lincoln Nebraska – it had been passed down the generations in a family in Pennsylvania with Dutch roots, and has the same motifs and some of the same fabrics.
With the exception of the fabrics in the central and corner medallions, none of the fabrics in the original quilt is used more than once! So it is also a kind of charm quilt. That must have been quite a challenge in the 18th century.
Another reproduction was based on a quilt from round 1800 that was also made in the north of Groningen province, in a little village called Lellens, which had 152 inhabitants in 1795. Despite the small size and isolated location of her village, the maker of this quilt used fashionable fabrics from France, including ones from the famous Oberkampf fabric works at Jouy. From 1801 -1815 the Netherlands was under the control of France and Napoleon Bonaparte, so it was a period when French products were available and indeed, sometimes mandatory.
There were also a couple of unnamed reproductions (that are also not in the book).
At the end of the exhibition there was a separate area with non-reproduction quilts made with Heritage Fabrics, I think by some of Petra’s students (there was no written explanation and no one to ask). One of the patterns is called ‘Irish Circles’ and is usually filled with circles full of Celtic style knots and patterns, but Beverly Bennett had made a version filling the circles not only with abstract patterns (stars etc.) but also with all sorts of characteristically Dutch things: houses, windmills, tulips, cows, bicycles, bridges, boats, the flag, the symbols of the Royal Family etc etc. It was huge, about 120″ x 120″ and I thought it was fabulous, so although it is not a reproduction antique quilt, I would like to share it with you.
I wandered about the centre of town a for a bit after the show, and then made my way back to my car via a different route, which had more picturesque buildings. And in spite of the threatening look of the sky, it didn’t rain once!
So all in all, a most enjoyable outing. I see a reproduction quilt in my future…