Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bessie Fisher quilt 1885

The quilt projects going on recently at our house aren't piecing, or quilting, but researching and framing.

Let me introduce you to the Bessie Fisher Quilt in the collection of the Bloomington, MN Historical Society.

 This quilt was made in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1885 by Bessie (Elizabeth A.) Fisher aged 16 and her sister Mina (Ermina G.) Fisher aged 12.  The girls were daughters of Thomas A. and Martha B. (Mattie) Fisher.

I was able to date this quilt because Bessie embroidered her name and age on one block.  

Elizabeth A. Fisher was born June 23, 1869 and was 16 years old in 1885.  "Mina" is embroidered on another block. 

In addition, the quilt has two ribbons from Grand Army of the Republic (a civil war veteran's group) events.  The GAR had it's 18th Annual Encampment in Minneapolis in 1885, and a rose colored ribbon sewn onto this quilt advertises the 19th Annual Encampment held in Portland, Maine the following year.  

Thomas Fisher, father of Bessie and Mina, served in the Civil War with the 6th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, company D, and would likely have been a GAR member.  After the war he worked as a meat cutter/butcher in Minneapolis.  The words 'New Hampshire' may seem out of place, but Thomas Fisher's grandparents lived in New Hampshire, so there is a family connection.  Perhaps uncles or cousins were with New Hampshire units in the civil war.

The Victorian Crazy Quilt measures approximately 62 inches x 45 inches.  Fifteen whole 12.5-inch blocks and five half blocks make up the quilt.  Velvets, silks, ribbons and other fabrics are hand-basted and embroidered to coarse muslin foundation blocks.  The blocks were sewn together by machine with brown thread and pressed open.  Then those seams were embellished with hand embroidery.  A jade green silk backing was sewn by machine, pillow-case style, with green thread to three sides of the quilt, then turned, and the last side is hand sewn closed.  The backing is badly shredding vertically and is split along the seam lines where the three pieces of fabric were joined to make the back.  As is typical of this style of quilt, there is no batting, and no quilting or tying the layers together.

The embroidery shows several skill levels, but there is some really outstanding embroidery on several blocks.  Flowers and ribbon rosebuds are sewn on velvet with multiple shades of embroidery thread in the leaves and stems. I had a hard time believing that these were hand sewn, but looking at the back through the large slits formed by the shredded backing, one can see that the embroidery threads come through the muslin foundations.  

In other areas there is beautiful hand painting on silk and on velvet. The velvet has not held the paint as well, but the flowers painted on silk have held up well.
I am surprised at the lovely shading and use of colors.  It is the work of a very good artist!

Elizabeth Fisher went on to attend one year of college, and was very briefly married, but divorced before 1900.  She became a music teacher and supported herself by teaching piano for many years.  Mina Fisher was single, and worked for a number of Minneapolis banks as a teller and clerk.  The sisters lived with their parents, and after their deaths Elizabeth continued to live with Mina.  Elizabeth Fisher died in 1941 at the age of 72.

The museum would like to display some of their quilts.  We did our research.  Hubby has made a wood frame, and put three coats of poly sealant over the wood. The frame is put together with dowels and can be taken apart for storage when the quilt is not on display.  I washed (three times- twice with soap and once without) two layers of muslin.  The muslin was stretched over the frame and is held taught by cotton cording over stretcher bars on the back. I have carefully hand-sewn the quilt to the stretched muslin with vintage silk thread and a very thin needle. 

The next step is to look for museum quality acrylic to protect it from dust and light, and it will be all ready for display at the Bloomington, MN museum at Old Town Hall!  There will be a presentation at 2 pm on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015 about Quilts and the Underground Railroad.  You are all welcome!  We hope to have many of the museum's quilts on display then.

Since I'm so excited to get this finished I'm linking up to share it!
Crazy Mom Quilts
Confessions of a Fabric Addict

1 comment:

  1. How precious and what a great work to research and preserve these pieces of history! Good work. A lady at my guild showed a collection of such quilts and one that was so precious had a label that stated her name, the year, and it said, "Mother of" and she listed 3 children's names. It was over 100 years old. Really helps motivate to label our quilts!