In 1804, Joseph Marie Jacquard perfected a device that utilized punched cards for controlling figured patterning in woven goods. By the 1820s the Jacquard machine had crossed the Atlantic and was adopted by a small group of professional handweavers. No longer limited to the strict geometric patterning capabilities of a standard shaft loom, there was an explosion of American figured and "fancy" weaving, most notably in carpets and coverlets. As powered mechanization forced the decline of handweaving, these professionals managed to carve out a niche for themselves, often using yarn supplied by their customers in weaving figured coverlets into the late 19th and even early 20th centuries.
This quarter-sized coverlet is inspired by the children's coverlets that some fancy weavers produced for young people and as samples of their work. Including all of the design elements of the full-sized coverlet, this scaled down version makes a perfect throw or area rug. The reversible heavy cotton and wool fabric is woven in tied doublecloth and every coverlet is dated, signed, and numbered. For an additional fee, a custom inscription can be woven into one end, traditionally the owner's name.
The motifs on this coverlet are based on the work of two 19th-century weavers, John Campbell and Harry Tyler. Both of these men lived and worked in New York, though Campbell later moved to Canada where he continued to weave until his death in 1891. Campbell's Rose and Stars, one of four designs he wove, forms the basis of my adaptation. Filled with Neo Classical motifs like the willows, and patriotic American eagles, he either began weaving it while still based in New York, or recycled American designs after relocating to Canada. The lions are inspired by the work of Harry Tyler, a prolific weaver who changed some element of his designs almost every year and used at least eight different versions of the lion logo. Whether Campbell and Tyler ever met in life is unknown, but their legacies live on in this coverlet today. You can still see Campbell's loom in operation at the Ontario Science Center.
I am extremely fortunate to operate a single-lift Jacquard machine that was built in the 1860s, exactly like the ones used to weave these coverlets in the 19th century. Unlike modern electronic Jacquard looms that turn a digital file into cloth, this beautiful old machine is treadle operated and still reads paper punch cards I cut myself. Working with an original piece of 19th-century technology is an enormous privilege and makes these coverlets truly unique. Learn more about the history of my Jacquard equipment and the entire process of creating a figured coverlet from paper to fabric.
Figured Quarter Coverlet—Campbell's Rose and Stars
- 47" x 47", plus fringe on three sides
- Cotton warp, wool and cotton weft
- Natural or synthetic dye
- Figure woven in tied doublecloth
- Hemstitched fringe on two sides, all sewing by hand
- Hand or gentle wash cold, flat or line dry