The coverlet bears the seal of the President of the United States and the date 1831. The eagle seal was used as early as April 1789, and the date of 1831 is probably the date the coverlet was woven. It is a double weave, meaning that there are two sets of warps and two sets of wefts. In this case, there is a blue wool and a white cotton of each element. When the white warp is on the front, the blue warp is on the back, and likewise with the weft, creating a mirrored image.
Upon arrival, the coverlet was dirty and discolored with several areas of damage, including a large swath of missing blue yarns along the bottom edge. One possible explanation for this is insect damage--the blue is wool and attractive to moths and carpet beetles. The large loss may also have been caused by abrasion or wear; we'll never know for sure.
After this project had been signed under contract, a new book was added to the MTS library entitled Weaving a Legacy: The Don and Jean Stuck Coverlet Collection. The catalog was written by Clarita S. Anderson for a 1995 exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. We were excited to find that Plate 7 of this book is a nearly identical Presidential coverlet. The most notable difference between the two is that the illustrated coverlet has a fringe on the sides and bottom and does not have the same pattern of damage. Like our client's coverlet, this one is yellowed from cellulosic degradation. We easily solved the problem by wetcleaning our client's coverlet and drying it beneath a cotton wicking sheet. Although the water had run clear when we had finished washing the coverlet, when it was dry the wicking cloth showed a great deal of additional discoloration and soil that was trapped in the plush yarns.
We also learned from Anderson that, at the time of her exhibition, only four quilts were known bearing the Great Eagle Seal, ranging in date from 1810 to 1830. She appears to have not known any additional matching coverlets.
Anderson's essay attributes the illustrated coverlet to New York based primarily on the fact that it has quite an early date (1831) and is a full 76 wide with no center seam. She explains that such early dated coverlets have only been found in New York and New Jersey. Of the 1,824 New York coverlets known, only 29 are dated 1831 or earlier and are seamless; of the 253 New Jersey coverlets known there is only one full-loom width example dated to 1831 or earlier. The coverlet treated at MTS was purchased on auction in upstate New York by a collector who lives in the region, which seems to corroborate the New York origin.
The owner of the coverlet treated by MTS opted to have us restore the pattern in the damaged area of his coverlet. MTS intern Kate Herron was given the daunting task of dyeing wool yarns to match the original. She used natural-colored Appleton two-ply yarn and dyed them with Jacquard acid dyes to a bright navy color. Kate then drafted the woven pattern onto paper as a guide. She first floated new vertical wool warp and then wove in the blue weft. All of the white cotton yarns were in place--Kate only had to pass the new yarn over and under itself on both sides of the coverlet. It was no easy task but the results are excellent and would fool the eye of all but a trained textile specialist.