Fading red

Yesterday I posted a picture of a quilt top that had a lot of tan in it, that at one time had been all red.


I bought another old top with that fading red dye….


It looks rather dull now but imagine it when it was new and all bright red.

The white in the top is recycled flour sacks ( I think flour but could be other items)

DSCN5642 DSCN5641 DSCN5640

So what is with that “red” fabric.  Lets start with Turkey red

 “Turkey red”  doesn’t have anything to do with Turkeys, it refers to a particular color,  Turkey red isn’t just red, or a particular red, or even a dye you could buy.  It’s actually a dye process that produces a very colorfast red.  The dye process was developed in the Middle East so it got the name Turkey red.  It was a very involved dye process , part of which included steeping in oil, the use of oil caused it to sometimes be referred to as oil boiled.   Once turkey red became available quilters went crazy with the very ornate red and green applique quilts of the  mid 1800’s.   The process for making Turkey red was very expensive so the fabric was very costly.    Synthetic reds were introduced in 1875 and they were advertised as colorfast, and often falsely sold as “Turkey Red” , but they either bled all over the place or faded to various shades of tan.  There wasn’t a really colorfast synthetic dye until the 1920’s

So the new quilt top would likely fit into the space between 1875 and 1920.

A few more examples of mixed red fabric.   You would not be able to tell the dye process by looking at the new fabric so it wasn’t uncommon for quilters to mix fabrics, that would have looked the same when new as in these stars.


I pieced the antique blocks into a top, but I left the faded reds as they are because to me it is a part of the history.

Blazing Star Pieced 009

When new this top would have been more red white and blue.

RWB antique top 005

but a lot of the red has turned tanish pink.

RWB antique top 017

This fade happens whether the fabric is washed or not. Sunlight and washing make the fade faster.

Some have just a few pieces of color fast red that let us know that the rest of the fabric would have been red when new


It is hard to get a good picture of the real color they fade to, and they do fade differently depending on the fabric but to get an idea of the color think Band-aid.


Green is a different story and different dye process but greens can really fade too.

This top was red and green when new


and the lilies in this top were red and green and yellow when new


When we look at old quilts sometimes we see odd things, one block or two very differently colored,a few odd pieces in the quilt that seem to stand out etc. It is tempting to believe that these color differences were intentional and have some special meaning or symbolism, when in fact it was just the fabric dye of the time.

So the new top was once red, and it is now a sort of washed out redish tanish brownish color but it is still sort of cool.  and I will quilt it one day.

Teddy is not so sure, he didn’t want to sit on it 😉


Happy Quilting


18 thoughts on “Fading red

  1. katechiconi says:

    I love the varied fading of the reds on the star blocks; to me it makes them look as if they’re twinkling a little, sort of like the different light refraction from a diamond. Love what you’ve done with that one!

  2. Vicki says:

    Wow, it’s amazing just how much they fade – the star quilt also seems to have had the yellow/orange fade.
    Certainly makes me wonder what my quilts will look like in years to come!

    • timquilts says:

      Im not sure about the orange….it might look faded in the picture but it is still very bright, but it does make me wonder how modern fabric will hold up. It is also interesting to think about what all the fusible products and glues will stand the test of time….will they eventually cause damage to the fabric?

  3. linda says:

    Wonderful history lesson. If only quilts could talk……………

  4. Sandy says:

    I find this very interesting especially seeing the fading in your quilt tops. I have made quilts with navy & blue fabrics. Both have faded but especially the navy into an unrecognizable color. I always tried to buy quality fabrics from local quilt shops. When I first noticed it my heart stopped, considering all the work put into it. Maybe I need to look at this in another way like you do. Thanks!

    • timquilts says:

      It would be hard to see a new one I had made fade…..it does change the overall look….but it is also part of the history of your quilt. We just never know what fabric will do over time

  5. Ann Genaske says:

    Very important history lesson. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  6. Julie Porter says:

    That was very interesting Tim. Thanks.

  7. Lorij says:

    With these fading fabrics it makes me wonder what my scrappy quilts will look like if they fade?! One has lots of purple, another browns and yellows and, if the red one fades wonder what color it will turn! This was wonderful information. This makes me think maybe I should use sew in stabilizer in the one that I’m working on instead of press on for my appliques.

  8. KerryCan says:

    This is so interesting! I’ll look at old quilts differently now. Does the fading affect the strength and structure of the fabric or just the color?

  9. Rebecca Loader says:

    I love the quilt that Teddy is sitting on. I have one block I found at a garage sale that is appliqued on the back of a flour sack. I can’t put it in a quilt. Every time I try to add it, I look at the printing about the flour company, and I just can’t cover it up. Sigh!

    • timquilts says:

      some blocks I think are meant to be kept as blocks….it is really cool to have one with enough writing on it to read….mine is just bits and pieces so I wont worry about covering it but if it was a bigger piece I think i would also be reluctant to hide it


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