Visiting the American Coverlet Museum

This past October I was at a stitching retreat in the small town of Bedford, in the foothills of Western Pennsylvania. My friend Lori and I went for a walk around the town to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. We stumbled upon an old school that we could see had been converted into something and decided to walk up the driveway and check it out. And that's how we discovered The Museum of the American Coverlet. We stepped inside and soon had arranged for our group to have a guided tour the next day.

A coverlet is a woven bed cover that was popular in the United States during the early to mid 19th century. Often made of cotton and wool, they were completely reversible and woven on looms by both men and women.

The pattern was reversible with a different colorway on each side

Initially they were woven using simple geometric patterns by women for their own use or to trade with a neighbor.

Simple geometric design

Professional weavers (usually men) produced the coverlets know as "Figured and Fancy."

An example of a Figured and Fancy Coverlet

These coverlets had all kinds of realistic and curving motifs, and were produced with the use of a Jacquard loom.

A very elaborate coverlet with an eagle motif.

The Jacquard loom was invented in France by Joseph-Marie Jacquard and was an attachment that controlled the warp threads of the loom using a series of punch cards.

The Jacquard attachment on the top of the loom.

With the arrival of the Jacquard loom, weaving coverlets became a professional activity and owning a Fancy coverlet a status symbol.

The Jacquard Attachment

It is interesting to note that the Jacquard system of replaceable punch cards is considered an important step in the development of the computer.

Punch Cards for the Jacquard Attachment

So if you get a chance to visit Bedford, Pennsylvania, make sure to stop in and visit The Museum of the American Coverlet. It was fun to learn about a little piece of America's fiber history!

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