Understanding Quilt-Specific Colors: Madder Brown

Each of these color galleries represents a color given as a value for “Quilt-Specific Colors” in the Quilt Index Comprehensive Fields. Very specific “quilty” colors often reveal specific fabrics, a specific historical time period, or a particular quilting method. The quilts pictured in these galleries range from the late eighteenth century to the 1940s, and illustrate a wide variety of fabrics and techniques. Some quilts contain examples of more than one of these colors and thus appear in more than one gallery. In addition to these galleries, a good reference for learning more about quilt-specific colors is Eileen Jahnke Trestain’s book, Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide, 1800-1960.

Madder Brown
Madder dyes come from the roots of the madder plant, also known as rubia, and along with walnut shells, clay, and certain woods, were used to dye quilt fabrics brown from the eighteenth century onward.  While browns, including madder brown, were extremely popular throughout the nineteenth century, madder browns are most identified with quilts created in the period from 1860 to 1880, the so-called “brown years.”  Madder browns are distinguishable from the other browns popular in this period, such as chocolate brown, because of their coppery color.  Madder browns often appeared in prints with browns of various hues.

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