Friday, February 15, 2013

Online Shopping Drama

Scrolling through eBay quilts last month I about dropped my cereal bowl into my computer keyboard.
(It's happened before---never pretty.)
The above quilt, a Nile green star with stuffed work leaves, was it the end of a thirty year quest?

Since the 1980s Merikay Waldvogel and I have been looking for the quilt that won the contest at the 1933 World's Fair. 

Sears Roebuck and Company sponsored a spectacular contest in their home town in 1933. During the heart of the Great Depression the first prize was $1,000. Margaret Caden of Lexington, Kentucky took home the money with her Nile green star quilt with stuffed-work quilting

The quilt was given to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and hasn't been documented since 1934. We figure Eleanor gave it away as a souvenir. We've tried the White House collections, the Roosevelt house collections, the Roosevelt family, etc.

Could this be the missing quilt?

We went crazy with the possibilities. All we have is some fuzzy black and white photos of the missing quilt.
But Merikay noticed two things right off. The shading is wrong and when you examine the old photos you can see that the quilted grid of squares is closer together than in this one.

The prize winner on the left; the quilt for sale on the right.

I de-saturated the quilt in question above and it is quite obvious it is 
NOT the missing quilt.
But soooo close.

So what is it?

Our first guess is a copy made from a Mountain Mist pattern called Star of the Bluegrass.
In 1948 the batting company bought the rights and began selling a pattern complete with the trapunto leaf design. On the left above a photo of the Mountain Mist quilt from one of their old batting wrappers. On the right the quilt for sale.

In fact Mountain Mist still sells this pattern.
(I don't know if they still include the quilting pattern.)

Lots of quilters made it. Here's a blue version probably from the 1940s or '50s, complete with the stuffed work leaves.

But the quilt for sale doesn't look like it was made after 1948. The greens are more like the early 1930s Nile green. 
See a quilt in the collection of the International Quilt Study Center probably made from the Mountain Mist pattern by clicking here:
The greens are different.

Then I remembered that Sears included a pattern right after the 1933 Fair in this booklet.

They actually sold a kit.
Here's the copy

"Answering thousands of requests for this pattern, we're now offering a complete outfit for making a similar quilt top, size about 72 x 90 inches. This includes the proper assortment of plain and printed "80 square" cotton patches... "
I assume the word outfit means kit and "80 square" must mean the grade of percale you'd be getting.
They also sold the quilting pattern for a quarter.The whole kit cost $3.25. 
So you can see how much the $1,000 prize was worth.

I am guessing the quilt for sale was made from that kit.

We didn't get that quilt. It was in rather bad shape and WE DON'T EITHER OF US NEED ONE MORE QUILT....so I am glad we were outbid.

We could go on about the contest. And I probably will in future posts. Merikay has written about it extensively for the Quilt Index Gallery pages.
Click on the links for lots more:

Here are the prizewinners:

On the gallery page scroll down to Sears contest to see various gallery photos with comments by Merikay.

And by the way--- Margaret Caden didn't make that quilt. She kept the $1,000 and didn't give any of it to the women who did.

You'll have to read our book Patchwork Souvenirs to find out more.
See it over on the left.


  1. Very interesting. I wonder what happened to that quilt. I am from Chicago - born there, and my FIL drove a tour bus during the world's fair. Back then Sears stores sold fabric as did lots, maybe most, department stores. I used to go to Marshall Field's to buy fabric and bought my first sewing machine there too in 1962. I can't really remember buying fabric in Sears, though.

  2. I had the same reaction, wondering if it could really be quilt historians "holy grail". Still hoping that eventually it will show up somewhere

  3. I love quilt history and this was so fun to read. I've heard about this missing quilt earlier, but I guess finding it again perhaps is impossible.
    I am visiting your blog very often and love reading your posts. Quilt history is so important, and even in Norway we have quilt history that is very important.

  4. How exciting! As it happens, I purchased and read Patchwork Souvenirs just last month, so I was anxious to see if this was IT!

    Jeanne :)

  5. I saw that quilt too! Went running for your book on World's Fair quilts and came to the same conclusion you did. Maybe someday!!

  6. Oh so close. What a mystery. I too am hoping it will show up one day!

  7. I ordered your book (supposed to be a signed copy !!). Very interesting, can't wait to read it. Like finding a four-leaf clover.

  8. I wrote an outline for a historical fiction about the missing quilt. Thank you for spurring me to continue. Joanne

  9. It is amazing how you can figure out the age and information about quilts, I would have over paid, not knowing what I was buying. I enjoy reading about quilts and learning more, just in case I get lucky and spot something on my travels.


  10. What a fascinating look into this ongoing mystery. Thank you so much for sharing the information you and Mary Kay have made so much effort to accumulate. I do recall hearing the winner kept the prize money for herself. You have to wonder if she felt regret at some point or ever made things "right" ??

  11. I must be older that all of you...bought fabric at Sears and at J.C. Penney's. I still have the sewing machine from Sears (1969), but it has a new motor and is on it's third foot petal.

  12. I love quilt history too.
    What an amazing story, I hope it still turns up, what a find that would be..

    P.s. I am working on a quilt with an old Dresden pattern, just a sheet of paper, that was given to me. I don't know where the pattern originated from..
    It's on my blog.
    Perhaps you may know.
    Julia ♥

  13. I've always hated that winning quilt. Before I ever saw a photo of it, I'd somehow learned that the prize winner didn't make it herself and that the judges completely disregarded the spirit (and actual rules) of the contest by choosing to ignore all the fabulous original designs submitted in favor of giving an award for high quality traditional technique. Then when I saw a picture and found out it was that dingy hospital green, I decided it was ugly as well. The quilt is so despicable, I almost feel sorry for it.

    I researched some of the US Worlds Fairs and came across a lecture in which the speaker assumed the quilt on the cover of your and Marikay's book was the contest winner and used it as an example of celebration of innovation at the 1933 WF. There was a slide of the book cover shown to illustrate the quilt and you were cited. Just goes to show you, you can't judge a book by its cover -- you'd better read some of it too. I wrote the lecturer and told him he missed a good story.

  14. Barbara, on an unrelated topic to this post, are you aware of the "Cottage Garden" quilt now on exhibit at the IQSC? Obviously the maker who is unknown was inspired by the Bowen quilt.

  15. I would have spit out my coffee had I seen that listing. I do have the Patchwork Souvenirs book (and went to the exhibit) so I am aware of the story of the winning quilt. What a story.

  16. Truly, that is one my most favorite quilting books and I have re-read it so many times. What a fascinating story - great detective work! Take care, Byrd

  17. My quilt group generally does a friendship quilt every other year. We are a 20 year group who meets every Monday! Yes, every Monday and rotate by going to each others home. We have tried to do a different style, fabric or technique each time! We did Moda baskets one year! I sure wish I could upload a photo of it. Love Quilting and thanks for doing the blog!

  18. I belonged to a quilt guild and we did one every year. We did a row by row and a round robin.

  19. i have been a part of several friendship/signature quilts in the past...the one most dear to me was in 2011 when my daughter working in concord, ma saw one in the concord museum and decided thats what she wanted for her wedding autograph album....so her aunt my sister had all the blocks stitched and ready for the wedding guest to sign them....it was so unique everyone commented on it....

  20. I love the history you blogged about. I have done a couple slightly different friendship quilts. For the past 3 yrs (starting our 4th year in 2 wks) my friends have passed around a special quilt box project. We don't get to see our quilt blocks until our box has been passed to each friend, each month. By the end of a year, we each have enough blocks to complete a beautiful quilt that each of my quilting friends have lovingly pieced. Sew much FUN!!

  21. This would be the first friendship quilt I have made. I am so excited to see all of the blocks! raybanfandango at hotmail dot com

  22. SHAME ON Margaret Caden, keeping the $1,000 when she never put a stitch in that winning quilt !! That was a LOT of money in those days, not to mention the Great Depression.
    Sears sold kits for lots of things, even houses. Many vintage homes you still see today were Sears kit homes. Everything you needed (almost) to build a home!
    Enjoying the history, as always Barbara ...

  23. Hi Barbara,,I heard the story of the 1933 World's Fair Quilt winner, how she won the $1,000, went home and didn't even share the money with the gals that helped her..ladies in my quilt guild and an Internet site though I was crazy and making the story up! So, now I see and can tell them your blogsite and see for themselves and I will purchase the book and furthermore SHOW them!! Glad I found your site,,I love Civil war reproductions as I am in a yahoo group and we make mini 1800 reproduction quilts, moderator Kathleen Tracy!
    Thanks so much,,
    Linda J

  24. Barbara, I used your research and your knowledge to write two posts about Chicago in 1933-34 and this particular quilt :http://quilteuseforever.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/un-siecle-de-progres-et-un-scandale/ and

    Mille mercis pour tant de travail et d'inspiration infinie,

  25. I'm curious at how much the quilt sold for?

    I have one that looks exactly like it (from the pattern, not the original! :)
    It is in flawless shape!

    I'm trying to find what it is worth in perfect condition.
    Someone offered me $300 for it and I'm wondering if I should take it! Any ideas?


  26. What if a family pet was buried in it?