In Scotland, The Storrar Coverlet reminds us of the skills of handloom weaving wool and worsted cloths which are now largely lost.
The Storrar Coverlet, which has the date 1729 woven into the border, is thought to have been handed from generation to generation, from first daughter to first daughter and is a remarkable survivor of a once common domestic textile. It is a two-colour wool double cloth in red and yellow green and woven in one piece, composed of two layers of cloth which interchange with each other to create the pattern and to provide thickness and warmth.
In a very coarse weave these flat weave double cloths were used on the floor and known as 'Scotch Carpets'. They became hugely popular in the Scottish home, often highly coloured and patterned and exported to many parts of Europe and the Americas. Handloom weavers often made both coverlets and carpets, probably using the same repertoire of patterns for both. An advertisement in the Caledonian Mercury from the Dalkeith Carpet Manufactory in April 1763 describes 'the very best Scots (sic) Carpets, both ingrained and common colours; also coverings of all kinds for the navy or hospital bed.' Throughout the 18th century many kinds of bed covers or quilts were made to grace this most important item of household furniture: from the finest embroidered oriental silks and Indian calicos; crewel work; embroidered blankets; and the more utilitarian overshot coverlet where coarse coloured woollen yarns were floated over a plain weave, often linen, base. 'Carpet coverlids' (coverlets) are sometimes mentioned in Scottish Inventories in lists of bedding and napery.
A weaver in Kilmarnock named John Murchland was awarded a Premium by the Board of Trustees for Fisheries, Manufactures and Improvements in 1736, for setting up a 'Manufacture of Coverlets or Paislim Coverings for Floors which will ...Improve the Manufacture of Searges there, the Coarsest of the Wooll being very good for this ...' These more homely bed covers rarely survive and it is remarkable that The Storrar Coverlet is in such good condition with little sign of wear or fading.
In Scandinavia, patterned coverlets woven in double cloth, often with one warp and weft of linen and the second of wool were a prized part of family celebrations. A curious feature of this coverlet is the incomplete repeat at both sides, although there are no raw edges. Perhaps the pattern for this piece had been originally designed for a larger woollen hanging. Although long in the Storrar family, the origin of the coverlet is unknown. Described as the Storrars of Orphat (Nether Urquhart, Cupar, Fife) the family was long associated with Fife. But the county itself had strong trading links with continental Europe and Scandinavia. Many Scottish merchants were based abroad dealing in both wool and linen cloth. Experts from Holland, France and England came to Scotland bringing new fashions and manufacturing techniques with them.
In the century between the departure of James VI for London and the Union of 1707 there were opportunities for the development of wool manufacturing at home which were encouraged by Royal patronage and statute. Patterns of birds in a flowering tree or in a dovecot are often found on textiles, seen for example in several coverlets in the collections of the Nordiska museet in Stockholm, of a later date. Paired birds on The Storrar Coverlet suggest the marking of a betrothal or a birth in 1729. Family research records the marriage of Richard Storrar of Orphat to Margaret Paterson in 1787 and it may be that the coverlet came into the family through the previous generation.
Over a century later, commemorative Jacquard woven quilts and coverlets continued to feature birds, frequently emblematic birds such as eagles in the United States. In Scotland, The Storrar Coverlet reminds us of the skills of handloom weaving wool and worsted cloths which are now largely lost. Yet it has survived despite state encouragement for the linen trade and the subsequent onslaught of the cotton industry.
Update: This piece has recently been sold by private treaty and, therefore, no longer available at auction.
Lyon & Turnbull thanks textiles historian Vanessa Habib for her help with this article
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