Folk Crafts - Textiles

Much of Warren’s exposure to traditional textiles such as quilts, coverlets, and woven rugs came at the estate auctions which he regularly attended. An occasional bidding card can be found in the archives with notes scrawled in his looping handwriting about the provenance of this or that piece, as shared by fellow bidders, representatives of the family whose goods were up for sale, or by the auctioneer. He found auctions to be an excellent type of field school, where he could question elderly farmers and their wives about the identification and use of common farm tools and household goods.

Woven Coverlets:

Traditional loom-woven bed covers, or coverlets, turned up fairly often at antique stores and auctions that Warren began frequenting in the 1960s in Monroe, Lawrence, and nearby counties. Three types are common to Indiana. The geometric-patterned overshot coverlet, made on a four-harness loom, has a single undyed cotton warp and a single dyed wool weft. The two-layer, double weave coverlet, made with two sets of interconnected warps and wefts, also had a geometric design. Jacquard coverlets, introduced in Indiana by professional weavers in the 1840s, are distinguished by circular, geometric, medallion, floral, and figural patterns created with a punch-card attachment to a multi-harness loom. Warren dubbed them the pre-industrial era’s computer.

Overshot coverlets were typically made in the home. Double weave and Jacquard coverlets were the products of professional weavers—mostly men. According to the 1850 census, 90 of 157 professional weavers in Indiana (or 60 percent) had Jacquard looms. The decline in professional weaving began with the Civil War. Home weaving may not have been completely discontinued until the turn of the century.

Additional reading: Pauline Woodward Montgomery, Indiana Coverlets and Their Makers. Indianapolis: Hoosier Heritage Press, 1974.

Rag Rugs:

Warren’s functional approach to material culture connected objects with their use and users. In the matter of woven rugs, he explained why and how the floor coverings were necessary to keep a log house warm in the winter. Former students remember that on field trips to outdoor museums like Conner Prairie and the pioneer village at Spring Mill State Park, Warren often instructed them to look for tiny holes at the perimeter of the floors left behind by tacks that had secured the seasonal floor covering.

Folk Crafts

"After saying that the folklife researcher must be concerned with textiles, I must hasten to say that I, myself, have not devoted much attention to the subject. It is not that I lack interest in it, it is a purely practical problem. I have said that fieldwork is the folklife researcher’s primary source of information. Certainly, I have done a fair amount of fieldwork in the past and continue to do so as the opportunity arises. It should come as no surprise to you that, in the Indiana countryside, strong notions about sex roles still exist. Certain things are thought to be men’s work and certain things are thought to be women’s work, and men have only a superficial knowledge about and very little interest in women’s work and vice versa. Hence if I tried to interview ladies about textiles, they would feel uncomfortable and so would I as a result. It would take a long time to explain my interest in textiles, and a quilter, for instance, would still feel that she couldn’t properly explain something to me that I couldn’t do myself—and she would probably be right."

Warren Roberts,”The Folklife Research Approach to Textiles,” in Viewpoints, 23.