Whether you like bright orange or hate it, you have to admit, cheddar quilts are striking. As with any color or style of quilt, cheddar quilts have had their moments in the sun, and the last few years we’ve seen their popularity grow once again.
So what are cheddar quilts and why are they called that? And what’s caused the resurgence?
Noted quilter, author, and fabric designer Pepper Cory explained all this and a lot more in an article for Quilters Newsletter in 2014, and what she wrote then still holds true:
“Before 1990, [cheddar] was often referred to as just bright orange or gold. For years, the shade we now know as cheddar was for the most part used in country quilts and often those from the Pennsylvania Dutch and from Southern states.
“Cheddar is enjoying a resurgence of popularity but it was not always the quiltmaker’s darling,” writes Pepper.
How was cheddar fabric introduced in America, and makes the color so appealing to many quilters?
“When used with dull colors, cheddar always livens the pot,” writes Pepper. “Some immigrants to the U.S. were quite familiar with orange and golden orange in crafts other than quiltmaking. The Pennsylvania Dutch used the color in painting furniture details.
“Moravian potters from Pennsylvania and later North Carolina often used orange and gold when slip-decorating their wares. This Moravian connection is why, I think, so many cheddar quilts were made in those two states,” she states.
Since the late 1800s, the interest in cheddar fabric in quilt designs has waxed and waned over the years, fading out to a more pastel orange (often used with lavender) during the Depression and coming on strong again in the psychedelic ’60s and ’70s. After that, it faded from popularity again until the early 2000s.
“The present interest in cheddar quilts was fueled in part by the sudden appearance on the market of a flood of quilts owned by Sandra Mitchell,” writes Pepper. “When she died in 2000, her huge estate, including her hoard of orange/cheddar quilts, took a while to liquidate. From 2002 until the present, when a notable cheddar quilt is seen in a book or exhibition, it’s likely to have ‘from the Sandra Mitchell Collection’ in its provenance.”
But why “cheddar” and not “orange” or some other term? Marketing, of course.
In recent years antique dealers, struggling to identify regional quilt characteristics, have started to describe all 19th- and early 20th-century quilts with a preponderance of golden orange as cheddar quilts, writes Pepper .
“Dealers in antique quilts, conscious of presenting their wares in a good light, have avoided using the word orange since they knew some people disliked the color,” she says. “Cheddar” quilts sound more homey and appealing.
The Modern Quilt movement has also fueled the appetite for cheddar. Orange and cheddar have been singled out as “modern” colors for quilts and were among the colors chosen to represent the first QuiltCon presented in 2013 by the Modern Quilt Guild. Orange and cheddar are popping up all the time in new print fabric lines.
“This time around we’re seeing the colors combined with gray, all shades of blue, olive green, bright pink and set off by white to keep it fresh,” says Pepper.
Combining cheddar fabric in different color combinations definitely affects the effect of the quilt design and it’s impact. Black and cheddar makes a bold statement with a nod to the Amish, whereas cheddar with pastels looks cheery and light. Use a touch to liven up muted colors or as a backing fabric for punch of color.
What do you think of cheddar quilts? Whether you like traditional cheddar quilt styles or more modern combinations, there are plenty of patterns, kits, and fabrics to choose from.