Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vintage Cigarette "Silkies" for quilting

I've been digging around in some long-forgotten drawers and I found an odd piece of something I picked up somewhere a long time ago.  I thought it was interesting, but didn't really know what it was, so down it went into the depths of an odds-and-ends drawer.

I finally decided to clean out that drawer today, and this time I decided to try and figure out what it is.  It's made up of two-inch silk rectangles, each depicting a type of flower.  The center panel is made up of fine velvet or flocked geometric rectangles (that seemed out of place to me until I read the history below). They're each attached with flame-stitch embroidery to a 19 x 20 inch blue cotton striped and flowered  back piece.   (I'm guessing it was going to be a pillow top.)

I vaguely remembered something about cigar silks, but they were ribbons that women gathered and made into quilts.  I looked them up on Google and found just what I was looking for!

That site led me to this one:

Wow!  My thanks to quilt historian Laurette Carroll ( and Google) for that incredibly thorough article on textile tobacco premiums.  The pictures are terrific, and it says they're all from her own collection!

Silks and cards from Laurette Carroll's collection

I thought the center pieces on my piece looked out of place, and I wondered why anyone would put them together.  But in Laurette's article she shows the dark geometrics, calling them "flannels".  They were tobacco premiums, too, as she shows in this picture:

Neat--but. . .swastikas?

I can't believe I haven't seen more about this before.  I wonder how many quilts and pillows were made using these little premiums?  (And--uh, oh--how many cigarettes were smoked in order to get this many?)

And I can't believe I stuck this lovely thing in a drawer to moulder for many years when it held a history so fascinating I've now spent hours happily reading about it, only to be craving more!


  1. Wow this is really fascinating! Terrific research work! No matter how many years I've been selling vintage & antiques there is always something new to learn. I absolutely love this. The rewards are like mini history classes. Thanks for sharing all of this!


  2. HI MFR, this is what I love about what we do, too. The research is way more than half the fun!

  3. Just an FYI: The swastika was used by different cultures around the world for millenia before it was co-opted by the Nazis - check out Wikipedia's article:

  4. Lisa, you're right. And these would have pre-dated the Nazis. I remember that there were swastikas in American Indian designs, so that might be how they were used in the silks.

    Thanks for the article, and thanks for joining in.

  5. What an interesting article...I love learning new things and seeing what others have learned. Thanks for sharing...what pretty pieces you found in your drawer. I love vintage!

  6. Deborah, you're in the right place if you love vintage! Have you discovered The Vintage Village yet? Lots of great vintage people on that site:

  7. I had a "square" of silkies which was my Aunt's. I dug it out this spring and had it framed.It was cross stitched in blue...much like yours.The framer..Willow Tree Designs, also researched the silkies and printed the history and glued that to the back of the framed art. I have had many comments on it.It's a piece of history to pass forward....

  8. Wow, that sounds lovely. I love the idea of putting the history on the back. Generations to come can not only understand what they're looking at, but will be aware that you so lovingly preserved a family heirloom!

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. what are the value of these little gems...

  10. Anon, that's a very good question. I checked on eBay solds and it looks like the florals don't sell for nearly as much as the indian chiefs or bathing beauties or British flags. The prices vary widely without seeming rhyme or reason, from $1.50 to over $100.

    It all comes down to who wants what and us being there when they want it!