By: Barbara Brackman
The quilt scholars, collectors and dealers who use comparative dating to determine the age of a quilt rely on many clues in the quilt. Textile composition, fabric dyes and prints, quilt style, designs and techniques in the undated quilt are compared to those in quilts of known dates, and conclusions are drawn. Quilt experts generally depend on their personal experience with dated or reliably attributed quilts to build a data base for comparative dating since there is little reliable published information on the topic.
Reliable estimations of the date of a quilt are based on a body of data and the textiles in the piece offer only a portion of the case. Finding published information about evidence such as thread composition, quilting styles, or pattern popularity is a matter of scanning publication after publication hoping for a historically accurate paragraph on the topic. This is particularly true in the case of quilt patterns. One can find may hasty generalizations and easily tossed-off inaccuracies in publications from the late 19th century through the present.