LIMA — The heat wave that gripped northwestern Ohio in the sweltering, un-air-conditioned early summer of 1913 had been “most intolerant” and “many a prayer went up” for relief, the Lima Daily News wrote.
The prayers were answered with a 25-degree plunge in temperatures. “It was really cold yesterday, yes chilling, and today, it is colder,” the News noted on July 10, 1913. “Blankets and coverlets were resurrected yesterday and even heating stoves were put into commission in the evening.”
As a bed cover, the blanket provided warmth, but the coverlet, an artifact of an earlier time, provided warmth, a touch of art and a little history.
Produced on looms in cabins and farmsteads — and later in shops like that of John H. Meily in Lima — coverlets these days are found in museums and private collections, as well as on a few beds. But in the early decades of the 19th century, when they became popular, they were a near-necessity in drafty cabins where wind-driven snow often filtered in around windows and doors.
The three children of early Allen County resident Peter Faze were born and raised in a cabin in Perry Township, now on the grounds of the Allen County Museum. “The boys slept in the attic or loft and there were places where you could see the sky through the clapboard roof,” the News wrote. “They could watch the stars on clear summer nights and in winter often would have to shake the snow off the bed covers before arising in the morning.”
“In colonial America and later during the western expansion of the new nation,” Patricia A. Cunningham wrote in the Spring 1984 issue of the Northwest Ohio Quarterly, “pioneer families routinely produced cloth for personal needs from wool, flax, cotton or hemp. Along with fabrics for clothing and household textiles, one of the favored products of the hand loom was a woven bedcover called a coverlet, which means literally ‘to cover the bed.’”
The coverlet, Cunningham continued, “provided warmth at night and their colors and designs brightened the home environment. In this respect, a coverlet was like the equally popular quilt, a needle-worked bedcover made of layers of fabric sewn together with small stitches in patterns. But unlike the coverlet which became largely a product of professional weavers, the quilt continued to be made in the home.”
According to the book “A Checklist of American Coverlet Weavers,” compiled by John W. Heisey, “Nineteenth-century technological improvements introduced efficient new methods that greatly changed many domestic crafts, including weaving. By 1830 the availability of a loom attachment, known as a Jacquard mechanism, made it possible for America’s professional weavers to produce decorative textiles more rapidly and economically. This revolutionary device also encouraged imaginative operators to experiment with figured patterns.”
The Jacquard mechanism, invented by Frenchman Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1804, used a system of punched cards, similar to those used in early computers, to achieve patterns, according to Cunningham. “During the nineteenth century cards could be purchased in sets, or the weaver could punch his own, which is what he did to create his ‘signature block’ for each corner and unique coverlet designs.”
“Jacquard coverlets are the only ones you’ll see with identifying marks such as dates and names woven into the fabric,” the Arizona Daily Star wrote on Dec. 15, 1985. “Because they often provide interesting information and are easy to date, these are the most popular — and expensive — coverlets on today’s market. This type of coverlet got its name from the ‘Jacquard attachment,’ a special tool that increased weaving speed and made it possible to weave large, unseamed coverlets with designs such as flowers, birds, portraits and landscapes. The Jacquard attachment also allowed weavers to work in the date, the name of the maker and/or original owner and the place where the coverlet was made. You’ll see these woven historical markers on the corners of Jacquard coverlets …”
Meily, who migrated to Lima from Pennsylvania and produced coverlets at a shop in the 200 block of North Main Street between 1846 and 1850, incorporated two cornucopia and the words “Lima, Ohio” in his signature block. In a March 23, 1847, ad in the Lima Argus, Meily sought business in Allen and adjoining counties, giving instructions for the amount of yarn needed for the coverlet. He offered to dye the wool and noted that cotton yarn could be purchased at various stores in Lima.
Cunningham wrote that the Jacquard-woven coverlet was particularly popular in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio between 1830 and 1860.
“There is no question that the Jacquard-woven coverlet was a popular bedcover in northwest Ohio during the nineteenth century,” Cunningham wrote. “Indeed there are hundreds of coverlets in museums and private collections throughout America. Many coverlets remain in individual homes and are cherished family heirlooms. Some still function as bedcovers.
“To a large degree,” Cunningham continued, “Ohio coverlets reflect the influence of migrant and immigrant weavers who settled here between 1830 and 1860. The majority of professional weavers were immigrants or children of immigrants. Indeed, coverlet designs reflect adaptations of European folk motifs as well as traditional American ideas and symbols of liberty, equality and opportunity.”
Next week: Meily and more
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.