Discover Vintage America - JULY 2018

Adventures in quilt identification and rescue

I recently acquired a funky leaf appliqué quilt from an online auction. I put in a single small bid, and then forgot about the item. I was surprised to find that it was now mine, but I was excited to see if my hunch about the quilt was correct from just a few little pictures. It appeared to be a mid-1800s quilt with signature stamps — my favorite type of quilt and my collecting specialty.

Applique quilt (after rescue), dated 1848, New Jersey (Sandra Starley Collection)

The auction listing gave no information about the quilt, its origin, date, etc — not an uncommon occurrence given the dearth of information that is attached to most antique quilts. However, in this case, the quilt had a great story to tell if the auction house had given it even a cursory glance. This new-to-me quilt is a signature album quilt complete with lots of names, some dates, and every block identified with the town where the quilt was made!

When I received the quilt, I started examining the blocks, and saw the names, dates (1848), and the town of origin: Barnegat. A quick online search of a few names confirmed my guess of Barnegat, NJ, aka the Jersey Shore. So I had what appeared to be an antique signature quilt from New Jersey that was 170 years old. But something was amiss.

Some of the signature stamps looked like they had been outlined with modern ballpoint pen. The quilt was not quilted but instead tied with yarn all over the blocks in a garish treatment for such a great quilt. Not something that would have been done by the original makers and not a period quilt finishing practice.

Detail of ties on applique quilt. (Sandra Starley Collection)

Speaking of finishing, the edge was done in a lovely knife-edge, a difficult method not usually seen in the 1840s. Then I examined the quilt backing: plain bleached muslin. Plain muslin backings were not unheard of but not usual for the era of the blocks. On closer inspection, I found the unmistakable sign of feed/food sacking (cloth product bags), which is the stitching line along the fabric edges. Cloth commodity bags had a chain stitch along the top edge, which left visible lines; a similar stitch is used now on large dog food bags. This moved that fabric into the 1900s.

I believe that the blocks were made in the 1840s and the top pieced at that time. The blocks are sashed with a lovely 1840's Turkey Red fabric. For some reason the top was set aside around 1850, perhaps it was made for a wedding that was called off or as a gift from someone who passed away prematurely. It was finished at a much later date probably the 1940s.

I spent a number of hours rescuing the beautiful top from the hideous yarn ties and the heavy fluffy wool batting and it is now one of the stars of my collection. I did not remove all the ties because they are a part of the quilt's history but I did not want them to distract from the signature stamps and amazing antique fabrics.

The quilt continues to pique my curiosity; it appears to be related to a couple of other New Jersey quilts in my collection and other collections as well. And the gorgeous graphic fabrics may have come from a relative's calico factory owned by the Shreve family in Shreveville, Burlington County, New Jersey. Stay tuned as more secrets are revealed.

Sandra Starley is nationally certified quilt appraiser, quilt historian, and avid antique quilt collector. She travels throughout the U.S. presenting talks on antique quilt history, fabric dating classes and trunk shows as well as quilting classes. Learn more at Send your comments and quilt questions to

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