Extremely rare mid 18thC infant Layette basket lining
I am so excited to have examined this rare quilted piece, given that I have only seen one once before. If you collect quilts I imagine you do not have one of these.
In the 18th Century [and I think this is dated to the mid 18th Century], the birth of a baby, and hopefully a male, was a very important event and marked at least in the wealthiest families, with much fuss and finery for the newborn.
Now, I have examined many items that belonged in the layette that were prepared for the infant. It is reasonably easy to find satin pin cushions of the time, with a message for the baby pricked out in pinheads. Cot covers, Christening gowns and tiny shoes are more difficult to source. I have been lucky enough to examine these over the years.
Often they all have the same general appearance, in that in the middle of the Century they were made of cream silk satin. Almost everything was!
If you are lucky enough to have a copy of the V & A book 'Quilts: 1700 - 2010' [See 'The Study' for full reference], turn to page 170 and you will see images of a satin quilted cot set, with a fitted counterpane, pillow and matress. They are quilted in exactly the same way as my piece.
What we have here is a lining for a layette basket. Amazing! Remember the the infant layette consisted of many pieces presented to the newborn; mitts, shoes, gowns, swaddling bands, the pincushion and lots more essentials for the little one. [See my Blog called 'The Language of Infant Clothes' in three parts to see the vast range of accessories a mama needed to dress her baby in the 18th Century.]
So many babies didn't survive to their first year. The more lavish the welcome, it was believed, the more likely good luck would greet the child.
All these pieces had to go somewhere, and the layette basket was the receptacle made especially for them. And here is the lining of the basket, made in exactly the same way and with the same fine materials as the clothing & accessories.
I would imagine that the basket would be straw, or possibly wood, which would never be on display - this cover would completely hide the structure. It would be shallow, so that pieces could easily be found, and just the right size to be immediately at hand to cater for baby's needs.
The structure of the lining is as follows:
First we have the base, which would sit at the floor of the rectangular basket. This measures approximately 17.5" by 22".
Then we have the four shallow sides, created behind by means of darts to the corners. The sides are 3.5" deep.
Finally there are the superb scalloped edges, that hang over the sides of the basket, thus covering it completely and drape in excess of the depth - the sides are purely decorative.
Both the base and the sides are quilted in typical geometric diamond shapes, with a central circle. The quilting stitches are minute as we would expect, and tiny lozenge shapes within the diamonds stand proud of the surface.
The inner border of the base is decorated with looped silk fringe.
The scalloped edges are wonderful, also trimmed with the looped fringe, which is then treated to fly braided bows and a very fine silk scalloped braid below it.
This decoration is widely used on christening gowns of the period and is absolutely typical of the finest infant textiles of the period.
So, what's underneath and how do I know this is a basket liner?
First of all, the main base and shallow sides of the piece are in heavy, substantial linen. Not something to put next to a newborn baby skin! The exquisite quilting goes through to the linen and sandwiched between is a very lightweight layer of wadding. These factors tell us that this piece was not made for warmth and neither for comfort. It is a 'conspicuous consumption' piece, all for show. For a basket in fact!
Please do check below for condition but I can tell you right now that the entire top side of the pice is exceptionally fresh. There are a few minor issues to the undersides.
An extraordinary find.
It is quite unbelievable, but the entire 'face' of the piece is completely fresh and clean. With the fall over edges being gathered, I have examined the satin very carefully in the folds, and can find no splitting at all. The fly fringe and braid is as if it were made yesterday. These pieces used a silk satin that we can only dream of today.
Now for the underside, which, remember, would have sat on top of straw or wood.
First, and more of interest than a fault, the original 18th Century maker did not have quite enough of the heavy linen to make the size required! I love these little details. So, another piece of linen of a slightly different shade was joined to one end. Completely original because the fine quilting goes through both without any difference.
Amazingly, whilst the satin has remained faultless in structure, the linen has actually worn away in four spots, two larger than the others. Again, I feel sure this was because it was rubbing against the rough surface of wood or straw.
It is nice to see the double blue lines to the selvages of the satin here. There is something special about double blue lines but I have forgotton where I read it!
Now to the fold over scalloped satin underside. Here there is discolouration, general and to be expected. Also a few fine lines of blue which appear to be fine ink marks. See the photo's.
All in all, a most rare mid 18th Century piece in excellent condition for age.