Bedford Coverlet Museum

Carolyn Newcomer in front of an antique spinning wheel and a beautiful woven coverlet

On June 9, 2018, a few of the guild members traveled to Bedford Springs, PA, where we went to the National Museum of the American Coverlet.  It was a fun day!  We got to see an exquisite display of a mix of antique woven coverlets and quilts.

IMG_1604The museum is housed in an old school building.  The museum staff emphasized to us that they are always changing their exhibits, so that the next time we go, we’ll see different things.  The current display showed the influence of designs between coverlets and quilts — meaning that there are distinct similarities in designs.

The staff told us — and I hope I’m remembering this correctly — that the earliest coverlets were woven with pretty simple geometric designs made on floor looms.  They used cotton or linen warp and wool yarn weft.  The Germans liked multiple colors:  red, blue, green, yellow, white — and the British liked two-color weaves.  The Dutch also made coverlets.   Germans liked to finish their coverlets with fringe, and the British didn’t tend to have fringe.

The “Jacquard” system of weaving was invented by the Frenchman Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1804.  This system used punch cards with holes to create damasks and other patterned fabrics, and the punch-cards are considered the first “computerized system” to have been developed.  The system quickly spread to the US, where weavers would purchase the jacquard system and create their own designs for coverlets.  Apparently only property owners were allowed to purchase this expensive weaving equipment, which meant that only men could make jacquard weaves.  Women’s weaving was apparently restricted to simpler home-weaving with simple patterns.

IMG_1546The coverlets were double-sided, as shown in this photo of Eileen turning over the corner, right.  The colors reverse on either side.

The making of coverlets was most prominent in the early to mid-1800’s.  In the Civil War, all wool went to men’s uniforms, and the source of cotton warp — the South — stopped supplying the weavers.  The weavers also went to war.  This situation led to more quilts being produced, with patterns similar to the beautiful floral jacquards.  Apparently initially the quilts were called, “poor man’s coverlets.”  Cotton fabrics were much less expensive than woven coverlets, so therefore were more affordable.

The current exhibit shows the influence of jacquard patterns on quilts, so there were not many of the simpler woven geometrics on display.  Here are some examples of similarities in quilt and coverlet designs:

The above photos show a woven coverlet with a “feathered” floral shape and then a “Princess Feather” quilt.

Another set of similar designs is shown in the above set.


The photo left shows even stronger similarities — the simple geometric woven coverlets on the bed and on display in the back, and then the Irish chain quilt hanging above.

The most interesting part of the visit was when one of the guides explained one of the huge floor looms to which the jacquard system could be mounted, and she also showed us the large looms being assembled in the back room.

Fascinating day!  And fun people to meander in the town with…


Looking at some of the coverlets in detail



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