Most eighteenth-century blue resist fabrics like those used for both sides of this quilt were originally owned by families living in New York’s Hudson River Valley, Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. This particular quilt, in fact, descended through the Van Rensselaer family, a prominent Dutch family that owned vast tracts of land around Albany. The design is created by applying a dye resistant paste to the fabric and then soaking the cloth in a vat of indigo. Areas covered with the paste remain white. Various shades of blue can be obtained through repeated immersions in the vat.
For decades historians have debated the origins of these early blue resist fabrics. In the 1960s and 70s textile specialists identified the cloth as an American product because of its concentrated history of ownership in New York and surrounding colonies. Others have considered it to be English because similar fabrics exist in English cloth dyer’s pattern books and because a British excise stamp exists on a surviving example in the Albany Institute’s collection (see here
). More recently, textile curator Amelia Peck of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has deemed the cloth to be a product of India, traded through the British East India Company and sold through merchants in North America. The distinctive fabric’s exact origins remain contested.