Designer Tidbits: Barbara Brackman - The Jolly Jabber Quilting Blog

Designer Tidbits: Barbara Brackman

Celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation with Barbara Brackman, the queen of reproduction! Once again, Barbara takes us through the history of the time period with her beautiful textiles. Enter the era of excitement with Civil War Jubilee!

Q: Where did you find your original inspiration for Civil War Jubilee?
A:Moda and I have been doing a Civil War era reproduction collection each year during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War from 2011-2015. This year’s Civil War Jubilee celebrates the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Each print name has to do with freeing the slaves and the celebrations that followed. The nine patterns in the collection reflect styles fashionable for women’s dresses during the 1840-1875 period. All those scraps from dressmaking wound up in quilts too.

At heart, I am an archivist rather than a designer who generates new patterns. I usually reproduce antique prints from my own collection but for Civil War Jubilee, I found most of the prints in Moda’s mill book library. We have several mid-century swatch books full of fantastic cotton prints, including this star design called “Nightwatch” in the Civil War Jubilee line, originally in madder shades of burnt orange and red.

Original scan of Night Watch
Night Watch in Chocolate Brown, Madder Red and Prussian Blue

We re-scan it with the high-end scanner in the office that captures all the detail. Once I’ve chosen a print, we work on the color. We shifted the color towards brown and a redder red for this one and added a dark blue. I choose the colors by matching color chips to my antique fabrics.

Q: What TV show or movie does your collection fit best in?
A:Easy answer: The recent Lincoln film.

Q:Tell me about your sewing machine(s). What kinds do you have and how many?
A:I have only 2 machines and I love them both. I don’t sew as much as other designers do, so I mainly use my old Bernina 930. It’s mechanical and not computerized. I’ve had it for years and it is perfect for the straight line piecing I do.

For workshops and retreats I have a smaller Janome that is the green Hello Kitty model. I don’t have a thing for the cat but I do love mint green.

Acopella in Hayle’s Lilac

Q:What is the most challenging part of the design process?
A:For me doing reproductions it’s getting the colors accurate, to match the natural dyes of the originals. The new dyes are synthetics and just don’t have the same depth some of the natural dyes do. The up-side to the 21st century is most of the new dyes are more colorfast. The purples in this collection would probably have faded quickly in the 19th century but our new old-fashioned lilacs will last.

Freedom in Madder Red, Iron Buff, Challis Green and Prussian Blue
Birds in the Air in Madder Red

Q:From what aspect of your life do you draw creativity?
A:I’m an addicted reader. I love to read biographies and history, so while I am reading about an era I am thinking about what the fabrics looked like. Can I find a historical narrative here that I could pull together for a reproduction collection? I make notes on phrases that I can use later—like the word Jubilo, a regionalism for Jubilee.


  1. What an interesting interview. I have followed Barbara Brackman over the years since seeing her on one of the earlier sewing shows…maybe with Alex Anderson? To see the old pictures and then the new fabrics taken from those pics is really cool…I, too, love history!