Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Christmas Cheater Cloth

A Christmas Cheater Cloth

Last night we had a snowfall in Santa Fe.  Not a lot, just enough to cover the ground.  Everyone was quite excited, firstly because we have had no moisture at all for months and secondly our weather has been unusually warm for this time of year, not very holiday-like to shop in tee shirts.

I was especially pleased because the topic for today is a piece of fabric over 150 years old that depicts the winter spirit.  This is a variation of what is termed “cheater cloth”.  In the mid to late 19thC there was a great interest in quilting.  Lovely fabric imported from England and France was readily available and piecework (patchwork, although strictly speaking the term “patchwork” refers to appliqué) replaced whole cloth quilts using small pieces of various printed fabrics.  Some fabric designers decided to replicate the look of piecework by printing a “pseudo” patchwork using different patterned and colored cloth in traditional quilt patterns.  This was, of course, just a variation of the whole cloth quilt, but quilters would use quilt stitches to make the pieces appear to have been separately sewn.

This is a beautiful example of a cheater, made even more impressive by the use of turkey red dye.

Popular, but short lived, was the use of luxurious fabrics such as velvet and silk to create what was termed “crazy quilting” which was embellished with ornate embroidery and the addition of small trinkets.  These textiles were never intended to be used for bedcovers as the fabrics were often too fragile for heavy wear and could not be cleaned.  Generally, they were for show, demonstrating the skills of the maker and draped over large pieces of furniture so popular at the time.

This winter cheater cloth, c 1840, shows various vignettes of outdoor activities, that are “patched” on a rich dark brown background with faux embroidered stitchery, and sprigs of holly as fillers. There is skating, tobogganing, ice hockey, ice sailing and a visit to the palace. My favorite is a patch of two men with kite-like sails on their backs skating over the ice.  I would imagine the wind filling the sails would result in their going backward rather than forward, but then what do I know of Victorian winter sports?

So maybe more snow is coming and skiers and skaters will rejoice


  1. Hello, looks like the fabric has a Russian theme - ice skating hockey, the hats, etc. The flag flying over the building looks to be a white image of the country Russia on a red background. Curious as to the 1840 date - how did you determine?

  2. Hello Louise
    Thanks for your comment. You might well be right about the Russian theme. Of course, this would be an English interpretation of a Russian winter and it was not printed in Russia nor for exportation to Russia. There is an excellent, short paragraph regarding "Ethnic" themes in Meller"s "Textile Designs. As to the date: "Pseudo patchwork, also called simulated patchwork" first appeared around 1840. In this example a piece of whole cloth has been "supposedly "cut into pieces and affixed with embroidery onto the brown background fabric. Perhaps it is this brown fabric that gives you pause. In later cheaters, as in the above Turkey Red cloth, the illusion is of various fabric scraps that have been joined to form a design, in this case a known quilt pattern.

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