By the mid-nineteenth century, both Glasgow, Scotland and Manchester, England were producing huge numbers of bandannas, printed cotton handkerchiefs imitating earlier tie-died silk handkerchiefs from India. The success of that industry was the result of perfecting two chemical processes: the so-called Turkey Red process for dying cotton a brilliant, washable red, and discharge printing, a technique for bleaching a white pattern into a previously dyed ground. Discharge paste is generally applied with an engraved metal roller, and gives a clean, detailed print.
This piece, attributed to the United States, is a poorly printed example in which carved wooden blocks were used to apply a paste resist to reserve the white areas, as well as to apply the dark brown ink, as can be seen by the mis-registration running vertically through the center of the piece. The design maintains the 31-inch square size standardized by the English in 1829, as bandannas became more commonly used as pocket handkerchiefs rather than head or neck scarves. Piece goods were typically sold in uncut lengths of 7 handkerchiefs of 31 inches square.
Susan Brown is the Associate Curator of Textiles at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.