Baltimore Style Quilts

Baltimore style quilts are a distinctive group of quilts made in a very reduced area of the country during only a very few years. This group of quilts is one of the most easily recognizable quilt styles. Baltimore style refers to appliqued album quilts made in the Maryland area during only a few years of the nineteenth century, between 1846 and 1852.

The city of Baltimore was a very prosperous area during the nineteenth century. Being a seaport and point of originbaltimore of rail routes to the West, trade flourished and the positive economic atmosphere afforded Baltimore women both the leisure to create fine quilts and the means to acquire fancy fabrics for them. It is apparent when studying this group of quilts that new fabrics were purchased specifically for them and that the number of fabrics used in even one single block, sometimes as many as more than twenty. The execution of the appliqué in these blocks is superb and often times the appliqué is embellished with embroidery. Ombre cotton printed fabrics, both produced in mills in the USA and imported from Europe is used extensively in these blocks, giving them dimension and texture. The attention to detail in the use of the fancy fabrics is extraordinary.

What is a Baltimore Style Quilt?

Common to these quilts is the fact that they are made with appliqued blocks, between sixteen and eighteen inches with white color backgrounds. The quilts are composed of different blocks, in the album style, contributed by several quiltmakers. The blocks are all different and they might or might not include signatures of the quilters that baltimorecontributed blocks for the quilts. The discovery of permanent ink that didn’t damage fabric made these signature quilts very popular, but Baltimore style album quilts take the concept of the signature quilt and raise it above just a memory quilt to masterpiece level. It seems as if a lot of these quilts were made as presentation quilts, that is, a quilt that is made to be given as a gift to a person of importance in the community. Some of these quilts were made as gifts to church ministers, wedding gifts and coming of age quilts. Apparently, young women belonging to the Methodist church made many of these blocks.

Most of the quilts include twenty-five blocks joined together with or without sashings and borders. Curiously, not all Baltimore style quilts are quilted and those that are, have a very thin batting or no batting at all. It appears that those that are quilted include blocks by several quiltmakers, but the quilting appears to be done by just one quilter, which leads to the idea of the quilting itself being hired out to do by a seamstress.

Styles Within Baltimore Quilts

There are three distinctive styles of Baltimore style quilts. The simplest of the three includes quilts that are made baltimorewith appliqued blocks mainly in green and red with floral designs that might be inspired by the Pennsylvania German paper cutting technique called “scherenschnitte”. These blocks are symmetrical and depict wreaths, leaves, and flowers. Three-dimensional techniques like ruching and stuffed work give these blocks texture and depth. Although they appear simple, they are executed flawlessly. The fabrics used on these blocks are mostly solids and small scale prints.

The second style is the best recognized. These include very detailed blocks with scenes and monuments from the city of Baltimore, eagles, woven baskets filled with fruit (epergnes) or cornucopias with flowers and fruits. Innovations baltimoresuch as trains and fire engines, or ships are depicted in these blocks, appliqued to perfection making use of the shading of ombre and vermiculite fabric prints to create shading and dimension. These blocks often times have details inked in them and some depict human figures. Inspiration for this type of blocks is to be found in book illustrations, china patterns, or newspapers. These blocks reflect scenes from life in Baltimore at the time.

The third type is somewhat different than the two because aside from the cotton fabrics used in this style of quilts, they also include wool and velvet fabrics. They depict exotic animals and insects. A lot of stuffed work and layering in these blocks adds dimension.

In the Style of Baltimore

The appeal of these quilts is in their masterful use of fabric and the impressive skill of the women who appliquéd them. The Baltimore style was copied, but never reached another peak of perfection like it did in the time frame and geographical area of their heyday. As women migrated westward, they attempted to reproduce these quilts, but the lack of the fine fabrics and the lesser workmanship makes them lack the genius of the Baltimore albums. Red and green quilts continued being popular during the entire nineteenth century and there are plenty of examples of appliqued quilts in this color combination that are made “in the style of”, but not comparable to the east coast masterpieces. The popularity of the album style quilt with blocks that include signatures reaches well into our days.

In the late twentieth century, quiltmaker and author Ellie Sienkiewicz revived the popularity of these quilts when she published several books on Baltimore style quilts.
There are quite a few examples of these quilts in museum collections preserved in nearly perfect condition, since they weren’t made to be used, rather they were intended as “best quilts”, to be displayed or stored away.

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