Turkey Red and White: Quilts from the International Quilt Museum

The International Quilt Museum holds the largest collection of red and white quilts in existence. The collection was recently enhanced by a donation of 650 red and white quilts from New Yorker Joanna S. Rose, who is widely known for the New York exhibition of her quilts in ‘Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts’ in 2011.

Turkey Red and White: Quilts from the International Quilt Museum will showcase this popular two-colour quilt style.

Two-colour quilts, particularly those made of red and white, were especially popular in the United States from 1875 through 1920. Their popularity was influenced by developments in synthetic dyes, which made Turkey red fabrics more affordable and thus, much more available. 

Turkey red dyeing was initially discovered in the 1700s in the Levant—the area of the eastern Mediterranean that was part of the Turkish empire. The dye was derived from the root of the madder plant, but required a complicated, labour-intensive process to extract the rich color. Turkey red was a popular, though expensive, fabric used in American quilts throughout the nineteenth century. 

The discovery of a synthetic version of the dye in 1868 led the way for an explosion of red and white quilts in the late 1800s. The quilts were typically composed of solid red fabric in machine-pieced patterns.