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Patchwork Lives

Patchwork Lives

Showing Off

What possesses a woman to cut out tiny pieces of fabric and spend hours and hours sewing them together? The words of one help explain: "I made quilts as fast as I could to keep my family warm . . . and as pretty as I could to keep my heart from breaking." So while many quilts were made for functional purposes, and some were made for personal pleasure, some were also made to "show off."

"Finished my Sopha cushion Cover tis indeed beautiful, there are 96,256 stitches on it. could broider at the rate of 100 stitches per seven minutes, which would take days, providing it was all plain. It is worth at least 15 or 20 dollars to make it. the cost of material was one & one half dollars."
Secret to be Burried: The Diary and Life of Emily Hawley Gillespie, 1858-1888,
by Judy N. Lensink, (Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1989).

Maker unknown, probably made in Midwestern United States
Circa 1920-1930
70" x 69"
International Quilt Study Center, James Collection, 1997.007.0108

Unusual techniques and time-intensive patterns were often used to create quilted masterpieces. This unknown quilt maker created a moving ring of color by sewing small folded squares of fabric to a muslin foundation. Her piecing technique creates a swirl of color and pattern radiating outward from the center of each square.

Crazy Quilt

Maker, location unknown
68.5" x 67.5"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Chilvers, Neligh, Nebraska, 10427-1

This quilt belonged to the William Chilvers Family of Pierce, Nebraska. The blocks are hand constructed and it is hand and machine assembled.

New York Beauty

Maker unknown, probably made in Missouri
Circa 1850-1870
79.5" x 80.5"
International Quilt Study Center, James Collection, 1997.007.0124

Circles and sharply jagged edges of elongated triangles collide in the New York Beauty quilt pattern. Notice how the pattern radiates from the small stars in the intersections of the sashing and expands in an increasingly larger circle. Obviously, whoever made this quilt was not a beginner.

Crazy Quilt

Maria Louisa Calladay Hamer, Lincoln, Nebraska
Date Unknown
67.5" x 68"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: M. L. Hamer, Lincoln, Nebraska, 7461-154

Maria Louisa Calladay Hamer and her husband, Dr. Ellis Passmore Hamer, came to Lincoln in 1877 from Vermont, Illinois. They built a home in Lincoln at 1109 J Street in 1882. Members of the family occupied this house until 1952. Highly decorated crazy quilts such as these were made primarily to show off the maker's artistic talents and to add beauty to the home, rather than for utilitarian purposes.

Grapes and Vines
Josephine Justus, probably made in Missouri
Circa 1910-1930
85" x 85"
International Quilt Study Center, James Collection, 1997.007.0635

The Grapes and Vines quilt pattern, designed by Marie Webster in 1914, features her trademark use of pastel colors in intricate designs. The intricacy of the pattern in shades of purple and green is superbly carried out by the maker, who painstakingly appliquéd the grapes, vines, leaves, and tendrils. The maker took her artistry one step farther and stuffed the grapes, which appear to float softly above the quilt, ready to be plucked.

Crazy Quilt
Clarissa Palmer Griswold, Sioux County, Nebraska
72" x 56"
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Dorothy Griswold Gayer, Lakewood, Colorado,

Clarissa Palmer filed a pre-emption and a tree claim on land in Sioux County, Nebraska, in 1885 and moved into her cabin in 1886. Drawing inspiration from wildflowers she found on her claim, she painted the flowers found on this crazy quilt, and wrote, "That first summer I copied these flowers with oil paints on silk and velvet pieces sent me from home. The crazy quilt I decorated and pieced then, is now quite a showpiece to be handed down." Clarissa was the mother of future Nebraska Governor and U.S. Senator Dwight Griswold.

Touching Stars
Maker, location unknown
Circa 1860-1880
86.5" x 82.5"
International Quilt Study Center, James Collection, 1997.007.0729

The brilliant night sky seen by women during their trek west may have influenced the number of star quilts made by women in the nineteenth century - the patterns are some of the most popular. This is not a simple pattern to create - the diamond-shaped pieces must be sewn exactly straight or the star blocks will not lie flat

Baltimore Album Quilt
N. Lowman, Baltimore, Maryland
Nebraska State Historical Society, Source: Helene Mitchell Foe, Lincoln, 9138-24

This beautiful quilt was hand stitched by the donor's great aunt, N. Lowman, who lived in Baltimore in the 1850s. It was made prior to the aunt's wedding in 1858. The quilt made its way to Brownville with one of Lowman's nieces, Sophie Schwab, in the later part of the nineteenth century. Sophie eventually came to Lincoln in 1879 and the quilt stayed in the family until it was given to the historical society in 1960.

Museum Exhibits

Patchwork Lives

Inspiring the Future


Building a Home


Providing Income


Showing Off

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Last updated 28 October 2005  

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