Friday, February 03, 2012

Dan River Mills!

**Notice!** This is a long post warning ---lots of vintage quilt goodness all the way to the bottom, so grab a cuppa, sit down and enjoy!
I made a stop on my way up to Pennsylvania ---in Danville VA! ((Yes, and this was BEFORE The speeding ticket incidence that ruined the rest of my day! HA!))
I’ve always wanted to stop here, but time was usually an issue…Danville is a bit off of VA highway 29, and was the home of Dan River Cotton Mills ----I posted about a quilt that was gifted to me recently that was made with Dan River plaids. You can read that post HERE --- scroll down to the Rail Fence quilt! I love that quilt and wanted to do some exploring to see if I could find other evidence of Dan River Mills fabrics here in this area….
Here is a picture I took of one of the remaining mill buildings ---many have been torn down and demolished, which is SO SAD! This one also had a “condemned” sign on the door --- but as I walked by to go over the bridge across the Dan river – so I could look back and get a photo of the back side of the mill, I was able to take a picture of the historical landmark sign:
danvilleva2012 062

This was the view of one of the remaining mill buildings from about the center of the bridge looking back toward the mill and town:
danvilleva2012 064

Here’s a little run down on the mill history: ((Or a little run-down mill history! :c) ))

Time Line

  • 1895 - Five of the six original founders of the Riverside Cotton Mills establish the Dan River Power and Manufacturing Company so that they can develop the waterpower of the Dan River.
  • 1909 - The Riverside Cotton Mills and Dan River Power and Manufacturing Company merge to form the Riverside and Dan River Cotton Mills.
  • September 29, 1930 - Seeking higher wages and more autonomy, workers at the Dan River Cotton Mills join the United Textile Workers of America in walking out on strike. After four months, the strikers return to work, partly because the union runs out of funds to feed them.
  • 1941–1945 - Dan River Mills thrives during World War II by fulfilling orders for the military, employing 14,000 workers, and operating twelve weaving and spinning mills.
  • Spring 1951 - When the Textile Workers Union of America calls for a strike across the South, Dan River Mills refuses to grant the union's demands for a 12 percent base pay raise, exposing the TWUA's weaknesses and ensuring that it largely loses the ability to influence wage levels in the region.
  • 1960s - Imported textiles gradually begin to take away market share from American textile makers.
  • 1990s - The American textile industry begins to collapse, hit by a surge of imports from Latin America and Asia. Ignoring the industry's calls for protection, U.S. policymakers sign a series of free trade agreements with developing countries, insisting that these deals will help exporters and lead to cheaper prices for consumers.
  • March 2004 - Dan River Mills enters Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, a move that leads to the closure of a number of its facilities, including the finishing and sheet-sewing plants in Danville.
  • 2006 - Dan River Mills is bought by Gujarat Heavy Chemicals, an Indian chemical firm that closes the main mill and moves the remaining 1100 jobs overseas.
  • November 2008 - Dan River Mills' smokestacks are toppled by an implosion, removing one of the main physical vestiges of Danville's long textile heritage.
To me the saddest thing of all was the selling of the mills in 2006 ----closing the main mill here and moving the 1100 jobs back overseas. This area used to be so vibrant in the textile industry…and other mills around NC as well --- it’s just a dying industry.

Here’s a video I found of one of the mill buildings and smoke stacks coming down…what’s funny is that the people speaking have such a deep Danville drawl, that they had to put sub titles so that you could understand what they are saying. Hehehe.

So what did I find? OODLES! It seems like scraps of mill fabric were ample! Quilts were made quickly to be warm..some just out of samples being sewn together:

danvilleva2012 005

Plaids and checks and stripes! Those ginghams are a Dan River Mills standard! Look at this old ad I found from the 1950s:

Love the impossibly skinny waist and the big voluminous skirt!

danvilleva2012 042

This utility quilt was simply sewn from sample cuts of Dan River Mills fabrics….it’s been used hard keeping loved ones warm and comfy over the many many years of use!

danvilleva2012 008

How about a Jacob's Ladder sewn in all Dan River Plaids?! These quilts capture the same feeling I get when I’m sewing from recycled shirt fabrics….and just because it’s a “PLAID” quilt doesn’t mean it has to be a masculine looking quilt either! Don’t you know those ginghams came in pink, yellow and purple too? :c)

danvilleva2012 020

I loved the simple 9 patch out of Dan River plaids……some of the 9 patches are scrappier ……see the one on the bottom left? The eggplant sashing is a great color!

danvilleva2012 026

This is my favorite Dan River Plaid quilt of all! STRING STARS! Wooooo! And I love the ones that have that tan gingham as the background, and didn’t pay attention to which direction the plaids were turning. Aren’t those fun? And if you look close at the stars, you’ll see the some have the strings going ACROSS the star point diamonds, and some going the long way…..

danvilleva2012 027

Some across the middle, and some the long way! Great fan quilting in black thread! She did a pretty good job keeping the star points in tact, and the center matches pretty dang good for having this be such a quirky quilt!

danvilleva2012 030

Crazy Crazy……love the blue striped background!

danvilleva2012 031

This poor quilt has been used to SHREDS! But it still shows evidence of lots of those Dan River plaids ---Turkey Tracks blocks! Look at these:

danvilleva2012 032

Blue gingham, tiny check pink background!

danvilleva2012 034

Loved this one……some mint green print, some gingham triangles, on that same pink background!

danvilleva2012 035

The BEST part of this quilt was the two great Dan River Plaids on the BACKING!! Love that huge one --- it reminds me of the big plaids that lined the inside of our big heavy sleeping bags growing up.

danvilleva2012 036

Here’s a great Double T ---- also very heavily used and worn through to shreds. That beautiful bright blue must have been gorgeous when the quilt was new --- see the fun stripes mixed with the great florals?

danvilleva2012 037

Every where I turned were quilts that focused on Dan River plaids and other textiles!

danvilleva2012 043

How about some BIG CHUNKY BASKETS…look at that yummy aqua mixed with that same eggplant color for the baskets and the cornerstones! You might not see the Dan River fabrics right off the bat --- they did a lot of “feminine” florals too, even if they were greatly known for their men’s shirting fabrics, ginghams, stripes, plaids, oxford cloth, chambray and denims. Open up the quilt, and then you’ll see the “obvious” ones!

danvilleva2012 045

Ooh…just love those sashings and the eggplant solid!

danvilleva2012 048

What I wouldn’t give for a big string bag of Dan River plaid scraps! What a great variety in this crazy quilt comforter!

danvilleva2012 044

I saw just as many tied comforters as I did quilted quilts…..Loved this economy block alternated with rows of scrappy squares in a strippy set! Yellow Gingham has to be the happiest ever!

danvilleva2012 050

Dan River Plaids in a “mexican star” block! I had a hard time even FINDING the block design in some of these blocks as the value changes area to area within one block to the next --- the extra wide sashing and cornerstones over power the blocks……This one has quite the history as well. Who made this quilt? Who slept under it for years and years?

danvilleva2012 051

Another Dan River Mills Scrap Bagger! Just when you think its’ going to be a strippy quilt..the color on the strippy parts change and you lose the columns! This one was VERY FUN, but very worn, only cutter status…but look what a great time the maker must have had turning her saved bits into this creation!
((Side Note --- and it’s not lost on me that the rug is a gingham check too! LOL!!))

danvilleva2012 052

This was a “GOOD” corner of the above quilt. Love the block that looks like it’s a Tonya “A” block!

danvilleva2012 053

Cute little dolly quilt with Dan River 4 patches! I loved the use of the “fancy new zig zag feature” sewn in red thread as top-stitching/quilting and the stitching that holds down the back side as binding to the front. CUTE!
And before you think that ALL Dan River Plaid quilts were hunky, chunky, stringy, crumby and crazy --- there are some with such precision they’ll knock your socks off! How about a hexagon??

danvilleva2012 054

At first it looks like random placement, but it’s not. Each “solid” color center is surrounded by two fabrics in alternating petals ----often times the “alternate” petals are a Dan River Plaid!

danvilleva2012 056

Check out the red ginghams! If you follow those and look to the next blue center…you’l see how the “flowers” have alternating fabrics.

danvilleva2012 039

Table full of Dan River Fabrics!

danvilleva2012 040

This side-trip was just such a treasure trove of inspiration and a good peek in to the past of a Mill Town area and it’s long history as an area landmark. When mills stop producing, and move away – it really is the end of an era. So many people here had family members that worked in the mills going back generations. I don’t know who these quiltmakers were, but I see the evidence of fabrics in their quilts proving them ((to me at least!)) to be from this area, Dan River Mills artifacts, as much as an important landmark as the plaque on the side of a condemned mill building.


  1. Your history lessons are as inspiring as your quilting; it's interesting to see that you stop and take the time on your travels to get off the fastest route and explore....still a skill that I'm working on..thanks for this lovely VA textile lesson.

  2. my mother sewed dresses for me out of dan river plaids; what a huge loss for so many, not to mention us quilters...i wish there was a way to bring back fabric manufacturing to the US..

  3. I hate it when places close down and then move a 1,000+ jobs overseas when people need the jobs here.
    Sorry about the traffic ticket - use that cruise control :)

  4. I love reading about your adventures!

  5. If I would have known you were coming through town I could have met you and show you around. I moved here from NC in 1988. There is a lot of history here including "The Wreck of the Old 97" I have a few pieces of Dan River Plaids that I bought before they closed the factory store.
    I would love to meet you sometime, maybe at Quilt & Sew in Lynchburg.

    Sorry for the ticket in VA. Slow down and enjoy your journey.
    By the way I have a Sienna just like Shamu! I love it!


  6. Anonymous8:35 AM EST

    You really did a great posting/homage to the history of an area. I also remember Dan River plaids and checks. Thank-you for reminding us.

  7. That is so sad the learn about the Dan River Mills shops. We drove through there when we would drive from NC to MD and I remember seeing those stacks.

  8. I am so glad you stopped in Dan River and gave us a great show and history lesson.

  9. Anonymous8:46 AM EST

    You did it again Bonnie. Very interesting for sure. I had many a skirt or blouse made from the Dan River plaids. To think at one time they employed 14,000 people. Amazing. Thank you.

  10. Thanks for the history lesson and quilt pictures.

  11. Anonymous9:20 AM EST


    Memories galore! We used to stop at Dan River Mills for me to buy fabrics from the mill store!

    They offered tours of the mill. Children had to be 10 years or over. By time our last was 10, they had already stopped the tours!!! I literally cried. BUT one of our daughters later studied Textile Sciences. That includes Textile Management, design and engineeriing. HECK she could have worked there! She did, hoever, work for West Point-Pepperill - and since then they have closed too!

    While we can all realize things have changed greatly - USA Textile Industry has all but disappeared. HOW SAD!

    "Thanks for the memories" tho.

  12. Thanks for the post and pictures. Great reminder to us all to buy American when possible and keep the jobs here. It may cost more but in the end we are helping ourselves and fellow Americans.

  13. I loved the history lesson Bonnie. It is so sad that we aren't producing anything at all these days!!

  14. Great post Bonnie, my almost 20 years at Hanes involved "transitioning" our supply chain to a more global footprint. That was the nice way of saying moving our manufacturing out of the USA. But Hanes wouldn't have survived otherwise and at least marketing, distribution and some other functions still employ many folks here. I too have saved some boxer fabric swatches thinking I would make a baby quilt someday.

  15. Very interesting Bonnie! It is sad that we all sold our selves down the river by wanting cheaper products. We are paying the price now, hopefully there will be a resurgence of quality not quantity in our country.

  16. I remember Dan River plaids and Mom sewed many of them into clothes for me. That is when my love of plaids began. It is also probably the reason your quilts from plaid shirts resonated so strongly with me and why three of my current projects are from plaid shirts! : )
    Thanks for this journey, Bonnie. Fascinating!

  17. Anonymous10:47 AM EST

    Thanks for the side trip Bonnie. Made me remember many back-to-school plaid dresses in Dan River plaids that were just the ticket in the Fall. Love seeing the quilt show. Stephani in TX. (Tomazec@aol.com)

  18. if fabric was made in the US..I wonder what the cost would be?? Look at the cost of quilt shop fabric now. Hiring cheap labor does not seem to lower prices...just more profit for the company.

  19. So fun! When I was in high school Woolworths drug store got in a big shipment of Dan River plaids. I remember spending my babysitting money on some and pieced a quilt. Too bad I didn't know anything about value because it's a very beige quilt :-) Still have it on the bed though.

  20. My father, deceased long time now, was a textile designer - mostly for men's suiting. We moved a lot and ended up in the south (Johnston, SC; Raeford, NC; and finally Drakes Branch, VA). He was beginning to see and feel the pinch of mills leaving the US and it definitely did NOT make him happy! I'm glad he did not live to see the final blow to the US textile mills.

    He was forever bringing home samples of his designs to my mother, who took the now fabric and had them made into suits for her. She proudly wore his designs when they went out.

    Thanks for that blast to the past!!

  21. When I first started sewing (clothing) around the 7th grade, Dan River checks and plaids were my go to fabric of choice. They were readily available at our local JC Penney store. In High School Civics, we had to choose a company & "buy" stock in it, write to them for info, etc. and I chose Dan Rivers. My stock didn't do much, but I was thrilled to get a corporate annual report & a catalog from them, although I was a little jealous of those that chose candy companies because they got samples! But thanks for the tour-I had kind of forgotten about good old Dan Rivers!

  22. This was so interesting and sad at the same time. I guess I didn't realize it, but it was in the 1960's that the fabric industry began to be outsourced. I made many plaid outfits in junior and high school probably not realizing that they were Dan River checks and plaids. I am going to look at my old fabric stash (in the attic) to see if I have any.

  23. Bonnie,
    I found this post very interesting on many different levels. The fabrics were so 'Americana' to me. I loved all the pictures. It is a tragedy that this mill was closed and the jobs taken overseas. Thanks for posting this!
    Tammy K.

  24. The video is worth watching for the subtitles alone - hilarious!

  25. I want to know if you found anything to buy!! Those quilts are gorgeous. How interesting.

  26. My aunt has several quilt squares pieced by my grandmother which contain Dan River fabrics. They are real treasures. It is very sad that the whole VA/NC/SC area lost their industry to overseas and promises of opportunity from the free trade agreement. I love the dialect from that area. The video was fun to watch... especially, the weee-und.

  27. This timeline is such a sad picture of what has happened to every manufacturing company in America. Our government has created this monstrosity in the name of creating jobs! Really??? I would just love to be able tour a fabric manufacturing plant in the US. I love all the Dan River plaid quilts! They just make my heart sing and they scream "truly made in America."

    Thanks so much for the pictures!
    Mariel in MI.

  28. My husband's family are from Danville! Love all the old Dan River plaid quilts you founds...

  29. Sorry, I had a tough time getting by the old pattern. Could any woman's waist be that tiny! Oh my...

  30. It's sad to see this part of our proud manufacturing history fall by the wayside. Happily in my own backyard is Amoskeag Mills which have been saved, refurbished and now home many new businesses and if you want to learn more about our textile industry and the history of the industrial revolution you can visit Lowell National Historic Park. See link below. I think this was a great post.


  31. Thank you for a very interesting history lesson! Is absolutely NOTHING going to be made in the USA anymore?

  32. I started sewing my own clothing when I was about 12 yrs old, in the early 50s. I loved Dan River cottons because they had such a good "hand," lasted so well, and were such good colours. In 1971 my husband and I took a trip to Florida (from Ontario) and I was thrilled to buy some lovely Dan River plaids for summer dresses. Dan River made QUALITY COTTONS!

  33. My grandpa was a buyer for Parr's dept store in York, PA. He would come down here to Winston Salem through Dan River on buying trips. He had acquired tons of fabric and button samples over the years. I have two quilts my grandma made with from some of the sample cards the first was a pieced knit rectangles of different sizes, both sides, tied with no batting. The second with mens light colored plaid shirt fabrics similar to the first picture again two sided tied with no batting. I have many intact fabric sample cards and button cards as well as a jars full of loose buttons. They are treasures. I also have a piced table cloth from table cloth samples.

  34. Dana E. Reagan10:04 AM EDT


    So wish I had known about your visit through Danville. My name is Dana Edmonds Reagan and I am the President of the Schoolfield Preservation Foundation. We purchased one of the Dan River Buildings, built in 1916. We have renovated the main floor, and on July 23rd, 2011, opened the door to the Schoolfield Museum & Cultural Center. It is a textile museum that covers not only the history of Dan River Mills, but also the Schoolfield Community (built for the employees of Dan River), it's culture, people, etc. Would have loved to have given you a tour. We have a cathedral window quilt that Dan River commissioned one of our Board Members to make in 1982 to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Dan River Mills. It contains over 1,200 Dan River Fabrics....some pulled out of their archives for use in the quilt. It took one woman about 1,000 hours to construct the quilt and, in 1982, Dan River paid her $5.00/hour for her efforts. After it was used for the 100 year anniversary celebration, Dan River eventually gave it back to the creator and it now hangs in our textile museum. We will be celebrating "Textile Heritage Week" from Saturday, September 29th-Sunday, October 7th. One of the ways that we will be celebrating it this year will be to have quilters bring in their quilts made with Dan River Fabric to be on display during that time. In addition to quilts made from Dan River fabric, we are also asking any Dan River employees who have made quilts (even if not from Dan River babric)to bring their quilts for display since our museum celebrates the workers in addition to the business. Any chance you will be in the area during this time period? Please contact me at TheReagans@cox.net or 540-589-5395. Loved your account of your visit through Danville!!!


If you are commenting as "anonymous" please leave your name at the end of your comment.

Did you know that ad space on this blog provides for all of the free patterns and free mysteries and challenges at no cost to you? Without ads, this blog would not be possible.

Thank you for understanding the many hours that go into this blog 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. :)