Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

Finding the Perfect Fabric for Your Reproduction Quilt

So you're inspired. You've decided what kind of an antique quilt you want to reproduce and now you need to pick out some fabric. Following is some information to help you find sources of reproduction and vintage fabric along with a bit of guidance in choosing what is right for your project.

America's Early Years

During America's early years fabrics with a gloss to them were preferred. There are some surviving samples of this polished fabric in both cotton and wool. Both florals and geometrics were common. If you are reproducing a very early quilt using chintz appliqué you will have a bit of a challenge as there are a great many reproduction fabrics you can use but most do not have the sheen found in these early fabrics.

Mid Nineteenth Century

Around the middle of the nineteenth century fabric the production of fabric increased to the point that fabric was readily available. Favored colors were Prussian blue, Turkey red and cinnamon pink. Greens, yellows and browns were also used. We are often led to think the colors were rather drab because colors on the quilts from this period have usually faded or even changed color. Purples and greens may look lifeless today but at one time they were full and vibrant. Large prints occurred but many were overall small designs with either plant related motifs or interestingly shaped geometric prints.

Rising Sun: an early reproduction fabric

Latter Nineteenth Century

Synthetic dye was discovered by accident by a scientist who was attempting to create artificial quinine. This began a new era as various colorfast dyes were developed. Women could buy packaged natural dyes for use at home and by 1880 even the synthetic dyes were available to them. Women may have dyed solid fabrics at home but manufactured prints had to be purchased. Paisleys, stripes, geometrics and florals are often seen on fabric during this period.

Conversational prints of animals, sports and sewing motifs became popular. Civil war prints included small pictures of cannons and flags. The Centennial in 1876 inspired more pictorial prints on patriotic themes. These motifs tended to be small and were scattered playfully over the fabric.

When you look at quilts of this period be aware that some purples and greens have faded into browns. That drab old quilt in the museum may have been bright and colorful at one time. Both bright and pale pinks are found from this period as well as deep and light blues. Even pale yellow and a coppery orange are seen. Although some fabrics look rather somber others are quite cheerful.

Early Twentieth Century

During the first part of the twentieth century a great array of colors became available. Both solids and prints were used. Feed, flour and other sacks were printed with appealing motifs to help sell their product. Many quilts were made with the material from these sacks. Pastel shades were popular in the thirties and many quilts emulating earlier quilts were made in these new shades. The fabric sold during this time had similar prints so sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between feed sacks and commercial fabrics.

Finding Reproduction Fabric

In looking for the fabric that you will use in your reproduction project be sure to start at your local quilt store. New Pathways to Quilt History is a great place to get the feel for both antique and reproduction fabrics. Enjoy perusing the many pages showing fabrics on this site. You will find it is easier to recognize period fabrics in the store after looking as some online or in a book like Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide and America's Printed Fabrics 1770-1890.

It is nice if you can actually see and feel the fabric you purchase and buying locally will encourage local stores to keep providing reproduction fabric. But sometimes you need more selection so I am giving some resources for reproduction fabric found on the Internet. Looking over these sites will help give you a feel for the fabric from different periods and might help you find just the fabric you want. Go to and to browse through reproduction fabric for the period your quilt will represent.

If you live across the pond you can find fantastic reproduction Dutch fabrics at Quilting fabric, Den Haan & Wagenmakers . Quilters who have purchased some of this fabric say it is of very fine quality and the reproductions are extremely accurate. I understand the fabric is a bit denser than American cottons.

You can also look for actual vintage fabric at antique shops or online. Sharon's Vintage Fabrics has a wonderful selection of feedsacks as well as antique and vintage fabric. What fun it would be to make a reproduction quilt out of genuine old fabrics!

Sites that sell reproduction or vintage fabric.

Sharon's Antiques - Vintage Fabrics

Quilting fabric, Den Haan & Wagenmakers

Vintage & Vogue Online Fabric Shop

Grandma's Attic Sewing Emporium

Piecing the Past - Fabrics & Patterns

© 2002 Judy Anne Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)

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