Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Silk Quilts at St. Patrick's Cathedral Fair

Throws and bedcoverings pieced of silk were quite the fashion in the last
quarter of the 19th century, a fad reflected in accounts of an 1878 New
York City social event.

Catholics of the metropolitan area threw a fundraising fair in celebration of the opening of their new Gothic cathedral on Fifth Avenue for six weeks in the fall.

In the grand tradition of ladies' bazaars women from neighboring parishes made food, decorative items and knickknacks to sell. Each church sponsored a table. Quilts were among the items sold and raffled, according to the Journal of the Fair,  a special daily newspaper.

The newspapers were bound into souvenir volumes.

The building designed by architect James Renwick had been under
construction since 1858 with work interrupted by the Civil War. 
By the time of the dedication in 1878 all work but the main spires were finished.

The cathedral as it appears today.
The Fair raised money to retire the debt and perhaps
pay for those Gothic spires.

The daily newspaper described various ladies' tables with silk quilts often mentioned. The silk quilts pictured here, mostly from online auctions, have nothing to do with that fair, but it's all a good excuse to show some terrific examples of the style.

From a Copake Auction

"At the St. Joseph's table (of Manhattanville) can be seen the handsomest patchwork quilt of silk in the city. It was presented by Mrs. Thos. Bennett, one of the ladies attached to the table. It contains six thousand pieces and was finished just in time for the Fair, after a persevering work of four years."

Many raffles were held and the newspaper announced the winners.

James H. Grattan (?) of East 12th Street won a "silk quilt, log cabin design"
at the Immaculate Conception table.

Several drygoods companies advertised in the newspaper.

"Rich novelties in silks, for dress & garniture."

The editor was much impressed by Mrs. Bennett's quilt:

"Who can doubt woman's perseverance....He would be a poor votary of Somnus who could not revel in glorious and health-giving slumber for a whole night, and half a day, under such a comforter. 'Blessings on the man who invented sleep,' said Sancho Panza---we say blessing on the woman who invented quilts and the more patches the better."

Hindman Auction

One mysterious reference: "There is a quilt of silk patches, wherein 'the green is above the red,' made by a lady upward of 80 years of age," alludes to Irish green above British red, a little politicking.

The daily newspaper documented New York's Catholic community nicely. I wondered about my 13-year-old great grandmother. Did she take the ferry from Brooklyn to see this event that promised to rival the 1878 Paris Exposition?

See the Journal of the Fair here at Google Books:

A log cabin quilt is mentioned, but 1878 was before the crazy quilt fad so I saw no mention of crazy quilts or Japanese patchwork although the ladies of St. Francis of Assisium offered a "Japanese silk fire-screen, richly embroidered...." as did the ladies of St.Francis Xavier.


  1. I enjoyed the history in this post-amazing those small pieces sewed up in silk-

  2. Me ha encantado conocer esta parte de la historia de los edredones en vuestro paĆ­s Un saludo

  3. I wrote about the first quilt in your post and how it inspired me to make my own version that I called “All Things Bright and Beautiful” on my blog a few years ago http://www.barbrobson.com/journal/2014/10/18/inspirations-and-connections.html It still is one of my favorites and it hangs in my house today. I pieced it the “old fashioned” way using templates to draw each piece, each block had 9 different templates. Mine was machine pieced and hand quilted. The binding is pieced from scraps leftover from the piecing of the blocks. I also pieced the back with leftovers!
    Barb in Nova Scotia

  4. OMG! Reading this post, taking a break, and I just answered a Jeopardy question about what church is the headquarters of the Archdiocese of New York, and the answer is....St.Patricks! My husband thinks I'm a genius! Haha! Thanks Barbara's!

  5. I have drawn my own pattern for that first quilt. I have yet to make it, but it is on the bucket list.

  6. The first quilt makes me think of hot air balloons! Wow! Super quilts - and I love the quote by Sancho Panza! Cheers Barbara.