Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Southern Spin: Kentucky Stars

19th-century quilt
Believed to be made by Lura Eyestone's mother. Donated to ISU Museum.

While looking through the Illinois Quilt Museum's collection on the Quilt Index I came across this silk star quilt.

It's seen better days; silk is so prone to deterioration. Jan Wass, former curator, noted it's predominantly green (although it looks brownish here) and bound with a pink silk ribbon.

Lura Eyestone is famous in Normal, Illinois where a one-room school museum is named for her. She was a teacher at Illinois State University in the first half of the 20th century.

The Lura Eyestone School is on the college campus.
Lucky for us Lura's mother blessed her with an odd name so she is easy to find in the digital world. I had a hunch as to where Lura was from based on the quilt's style.

But I was wrong. Lura was born in 1872 in Bloomington, Illinois, which is where she is buried. It doesn't look like an Illinois quilt. The quilt is probably older than Lura so what about her mother?

Her mother Martha M. Johnson Eyestone is
buried near her. Martha, born in 1853, could have made the quilt.
But the date is not so important to me as where it was made.

Find-a-Grave tells us:
BIRTH 2 Jan 1853 Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky

I KNEW IT! That is one Kentucky quilt. I bet Martha or someone in her family made that quilt in Kentucky.

Bardstown is in Nelson County southeast of Louisville and way southeast of 
Bloomington/Normal, Illinois.

Mountain Mist Pattern

A star with points of four diamonds always catches my eye as I am ever on the lookout for the missing Kentucky quilt that won the 1933 contest at the Chicago World's Fair, published as Star of the Bluegrass by Mountain Mist after the fair. Their pattern included a leaf pattern to stuff.

Quilt dated 1938 with stuffed work quilting
Made from the pattern published after the Fair.

Stars pieced of silk and quilted closely have a Kentucky connection.

The older Eyestone family quilt is in the same pattern as the 1933 World's Fair winner.

Jan noted that the blocks are unpieced and the stars are created out of the sashing between them,
the same as the winning quilt. The Eyestone star is quilted simply but densely with double or triple diagonal lines. No stuffed work, however.

Why do I think Kentucky? Here are two quilts that have formed my thinking:

Silk star of 4 diamonds per points made at the 
Morton home near Russellville, Kentucky.
Collection of the National Museum of American History-Smithsonian

Silk Star of 9 points with stuffed work in the plain squares, 1837-1850.
Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Attributed to
Ellen Morton Littlejohn & Margaret Morton Bibb.
Made at the Morton's Knob Plantation near Russellville, Kentucky

These quilts from Russellville are so much alike it is hard to keep them straight.

Not only are they elaborately stuffed
they feature similar stuffing patterns...
For example: the feathery leaf in the border area of the Smithsonian's quilt...

...also in the lower border rectangle visible here on the left side in the Met's quilt...

is similar to the stuffed work in the cotton 1933 World's Fair winner.
Here's a kit ready to piece into the stars.


One way I keep the two stuffed-work silk stars straight is by the star pattern: The Smithsonian's has 
four diamonds in the points

The Met's has nine.

I'm focusing here on the silk stars. The quilting deserves about six posts. It was done by two enslaved seamstresses, Ellen Morton Littlejohn (1826–1899) & Margaret Morton Bibb (ca. 1832–ca. 1910). Read more about them at the Met & NMAH links.

Merikay Waldvogel and I wrote a book on the winner in the 1933 World's Fair contest about 25 years ago. We still think about that quilt. When we saw the Littlejohn Quilt in the Met we were astonished at the similarities between it and the winner. The woman who entered the quilt in the 1933 fair (she commissioned it) must have seen the Littlejohn quilt.

See a post about the star pattern:

And see a post about more stuffed work quilts from Russellville, Kentucky.

Marti Phelps of Prince Frederick, Maryland made this small silk quilt inspired by 
the Smithsonian's quilts for an AQSG Quilt Study on stars.

 Kentucky had its own regional style within the general region of "South."

See our Facebook page: QuiltHistorySouth


  1. I love this star, although I have yet to attempt one! So I found this very interesting. Thank you.

  2. What stunning stars! How (even more) beautiful these quilts must be in person.

  3. Well, this week-end I had to fix two shelves that had collapsed. All the books came off the top shelf and then all the books came off the second shelf and finally the stuff on the next shelf was dealt with.... pins to hold shelves were moved and then I went through the books. About half put back on shelf and half given away. By the time I got to your book with the Chicago Fair my daughter knew that we would be keeping it. Seems I have a lot of your books. At one time I wanted all of your books but your kept writing and I could not keep up.

  4. Susie Q. Somebody has to pay for these shoes.

  5. Many years ago I heard Merikay Waldvogel give a talk about the 1933 World Fair quilt contest. She had many of the quilts from the fair at her talk as well as your book. I am from Chicago and this talk and my book purchase started my interest in quilt history and i too have wondered about the missing quilt you speak of. Thank you for continuing to honor quilts from the past and their makers.

  6. I live in Normal and have passed that schoolhouse I don't know how many times. It sits on the western edge of campus, shrouded by trees and cannot be seen from College Avenue, the main drag through campus. I'll be doing a drive-by after work tonight!

  7. Gosh ! I love these stars ! Thinking I may have to cut some diamonds and get hand-stitching.