Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Visit to the American Coverlet Museum!

Yesterday was my last day to explore Bedford, Pennsylvania.

Mary was teaching a Broderie Perse Workshop to a group who had traveled in from South Carolina, using motifs from Mary’s marvelous Palempore panel.  More on that to follow!

Anyway – while they were busy I had a couple of hours to myself and it was suggested that I make a morning of visiting the American Coverlet Museum right here in Bedford.

Was I ever in for a treat.

I have always been fascinated by textiles –from the time I was little, if it was made with yarn, thread, fabric –I was game.

While I don’t own any coverlets of my own, I am so interested in the history of coverlets in America, especially since many were made through the Appalachian region I call home.  Just like the quilts we revere so much, in many cases these hand woven coverlets have been passed down from generation to generation, along with the story of the maker.


It’s a long name, and they have quite the collection.  I spoke at length with Laszlo and Melinda Zongor, museum directors and curators and was told that the museum has over 1,000 American Coverlets in their collection, with about 60 on display at any given time. 

I was here at the end of this run as next week they are changing things over to a new exhibit, animals in coverlets!  I wish I was going to be here to see it as the artistry in these beautiful bed coverings is every bit as impressive as the finest patchwork quilt.


The “Common School” circa 1859!

The Museum is housed in the (1859) former Common School building at 322 South Juliana Street in Bedford, Pennsylvania. The building sits on 2 acres in Bedford’s historic district and is a short walk from the town.


Simple treadle loom, circa 1920

What did I learn about coverlets and weaving that I did not know?

Early designs were ONLY geometric, and it was a painstaking process of moving fibers with sets of treadles under the machine, and passing the shuttle through, and coming the fibers back in place, starting over again.  It can take a long long time to make a coverlet in this manner. 

In many early homes, EVERYONE was responsible for the weaving of cloth for clothing and household items…even the children knew how to spin or weave, and every spare moment including long winters were given to weaving.


Simple geometric design.

Before the invention of the Jacquard loom, coverlets were of a geometric design. Weavers had limited capabilities on multi-shaft looms.


There are many kinds of looms on display.


The forbearer of the punch card computer!


More info than you ever wanted to know!


Jacquard design.

After the invention of the Jacquard loom, intricate patterns of flowers, birds, houses, trains, stars, trees, figures of people, and other designs were possible to achieve by the village weaver. The weaver was only limited by the punch card designs.


Jacquard weave with signature and date.

The Jacquard looms also made it possible for the artisans to add their name and date to their work.  They often also added the name of the recipient that the coverlet was being woven for. 


John Wilden, Weaver.
York County 1841.


Recent coverlet by David Kline!

On the top and bottom of the display rack you see the punch cards for the Jacquard Loom.  It’s like the difference between a vintage treadle machine, and a computerized machine with embroidery software.  The capabilities were so much greater due to this invention.


My favorites however?

The earlier simpler geometric designs!

((Does that surprise you?!))


I am fascinated by the bargello appearance!


So beautiful to behold!

I took many more photos than I can possibly place one by one in this post, so it’s time for the infamous Quiltville Slide Show!

Click the image below if you are unable to view the slide show on your mobile device.  You’ll be taken to the photo album for viewing.

Coverlet Museum, Bedford PA 2015

If you are anywhere near Bedford, PA – please put the National Museum of the American Coverlet on your radar.  The exhibits change out a couple of times a year, and these pieces of art are just fabulous.  I’m so glad that these beauties are being preserved and displayed for us to enjoy.

I’m off to Boiling Springs, PA and the Allenberry Resort for the Quilt Odyssey retreat that is going on this weekend.

A whole new group of quilters to enjoy, and a day to wander my way to get there.  Who knows what kind of fun I will find myself in!

Enjoy your Thursday, everyone!

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  1. We are glad you are taking time out to enjoy the local scene. You share these interesting places that we never knew existed. More important is that you take time for yourself. Airport to classes to airport can't be much fun

  2. Thanks Bonnie! This was fascinating to read and learn more about. Safe travels to you! Hugs, Allison

  3. Ohhh ohhh ohhh. The Swedish tipping loom. Mine was72 inches wide and with 16 pedals. Loved that thing. No one piece of metal - all made of wood and could pack up easily ( though very heavy wood). Thanks for posting it. Brings back memories.
    Tove tsondergaard@cox,ent

  4. What interesting places you go to! I'd love to travel with someone like you, who doesn't mind going off the beaten path. I actively seek out the places the "tourists" don't usually go to. Best way to get cheap, but good, authentic local culture and food? Ask a local where they go to eat or unwind regularly...

  5. Babying a cold and resting up from my one day car adventure with two friends. We went shop hopping yesterday and collecting some of the row by row!
    The pics from the coverlet museum were just beautiful...found myself loving the two colour ones especially! Happy you had some time for an adventure of your own.

  6. As a weaver I am familiar with these designs. Many of them are possible to make on very rudimentary looms. The patterns you like so well are called Overshot. You weave one "plain" row of the background color them the next row is the colored "pattern" row. The plain rows give the cloth its integrity and the pattern it's color and warmth creating thickness to it.

  7. How interesting, thank you for sharing.
    My dining room was a sole room for weaving, with a big weaving stoll in it.
    Many years ago....

  8. Always thought weaving was fascinating...resulting in Beautiful coverlets..
    I enjoyed your post..Thank you Bonnie.
    I get my 'Queen' machine today! made by the White Co. in the early half of the 1880's.

    Debra in Ma.

  9. The coverlets were out of this world. The last one on your main part of your blog reminded me of a Burgoyne Surrounded. There was one in the slideshow that looked like a throwback to the 60s - kind of like op art. Very gorgeous! I never knew there were so many patterns! Thanks for showing these. Is there a quilt idea in the photos? I can see you making a mystery quilt using just 2 or 3 colors and a pattern similar. You are so talented and energetic!

  10. I too am a spinner and weaver as well as a quilter. Most of the patterns, even the most complex, are possible for a home weaver; even the names and dates woven in are possible by manipulating the individual threads much as a tapestry weaver. This winters weaving project is an overshot coverlet similar to the red one shown above, this is possible thanks to cold winter days when I can't go anywhere. Since I am trying to finish up a half dozen ufos I will be very busy, but very happy. Thank you for all of the beautiful pictures, they appeal to my other passions aside from quilting.

  11. Anonymous8:39 PM EDT

    Thank you soooo much for the trip down memory lane. Beautiful, beautiful coverlets. Sew glad you took those pictures.
    Linda in Alberta, Canada

  12. Nancy A: rangerer@sbcglobal.net10:40 PM EDT

    I have the coverlet that was made for my great grandfather. It was made by his aunt. I am just sorry that I don't have a way to display it.

  13. Anonymous10:59 PM EDT

    Fascinating! Thank you!

  14. One of my most cherished possessions is a summer winter coverlet made in 1815 for my great great grandmother by her brother in law. It was made from wool & flax raised on their farm in Michingan. I knew the weaver's name & finally found out his history last year. His father was a master weaver in Scotland. The indigo blue hasn't faded & has only one tiny hole and one small frayed edge. I remember my grandparents using it everyday.

  15. I always drove through Bedford going to and from my son's college, but never had the time to stop. Will have to make a trip out there now!

  16. The coverlets are gorgeous; I like 'em all!
    Thank you, Bonnie, for giving us a second-hand view of places and things all around our beautiful country. You take us where we may never get to otherwise see. I admire your travelogue with names and information for us. May I commend you on your good work.
    G'nite now...happy and safe travels home for the long weekend.
    God bless...

  17. Thank you for the picture gallery of your awesome tour of the coverlet museum!! They are beautiful....are they one sided? IOW, is only the top used? Just curious...

  18. Coverlet weaving was both a must and a way to have a beautiful cover on your bed 'back then'. IN fact, Gatlinburg TN (that tourist spot) was one of the places a women's group came into to help keep that weaving alive. This helped the rural folks to make money too. Win-Win. They are very successful. In fact even into the 1960s and 70s you could buy home woven tablecloths ( I have one) etc. Now e Gatlinburg is gone so over the top with glitz stuff, you can't find any around.

    Also back in the earlier days, if you were able, you would have a Weaver's Cabin on your property. The cabin would be home for a traveling weaver who, one a year, would stay as long as needed to weave your fabrics like sheets etc. You paid him, and also provided the cabin with a bed, food and a loom.

    THANKS so much for this trip post.

  19. Great time for sure thank for sharing

  20. Thanks for sharing. Because of your wonderful posts, I have a long list of places to see.

  21. Susan Rowe8:09 AM EDT

    Thanks for sharing so many wonderful pictures. I feel like I've visited the museum.

  22. Wow! I've never been that interested in coverlets. Thanks for changing my mind!

  23. Peggy D.1:07 PM EDT

    In answer to Nanette's question, all coverlets were reversible. Some weaving techniques looked better than others. In fact, it looks like the dark blue and white coverlet with the concentric circles was a summer-and-winter weave rather than overshot. The structure was named that because the colors were reversed on the other side, resulting in the (possibly legendary)custom of putting the coverlet on the be with the light side up in the summer and the dark side in the winter.

    It was with sadness I had to sell my own 8-shaft, 14 treadle loom when we downsized to an apartment some years ago

  24. I love my virtual travels with you Bonnie!

  25. Bonnie, those coverlets are beautiful. I had never heard of the before or I should say never new What I was looking up. I remember seeing one or two in my youth while growing up in Ohio.
    If I won the panel I would make a Panel for a very dear friend of mine who would truly appreciate receiving it.
    Safe travels home , looking forward to quilt cam.
    Pat Bennett, Beaufort SC

  26. I've often thought I was born in the wrong century. I so love all the hand crafted goods over store bought. Of course, 100 years ago it was a necessity and I might not have enjoyed the crafting process. My MIL had a large loom stored on her front porch for several years. She attempted to set it up and thread it but had a stroke before she was successful and then my FIL disappeared it. I would love to have given it a try and was sorry to see it gone.


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