By: Merikay Waldvogel
Since 1980 I have searched for pieced Southern quilts called “linsey quilts”. The linsey fabric (wool woven over cotton) is solid, striped, or checked in bright colors. Linsey-woolsey whole cloth quilts dating from the early 1800s contain intricate quilting; however the pieced linsey quilts (estimated at 1850-1870) contain simpler quilting styles. Intrigued by the fabric, I began to search the literature. The word “linsey” appeared in store inventories from 1790, in women’s dairies and letters of the 19th century, in escaped slave notices in 19th century newspapers, and in interviews of former slaves. In one account I found mention of a “linsy quilt made out of squares of linsy dresses”. Linsey played an important role in the history of the USA. When clothing was needed for family and servants, and trade was cut off, women simply wove the linsey. Although the fabric was coarse and did not lend itself to dress styles of the day, women wore it proudly. The linsey quilt represents the final resting place of a proud but common cloth.