“Monkey Wrench, Eight Hands Around, Clays Choice, Job’s Trouble, Flying Geese, Chips and Whetstones.” While not immediately recognizable as quilt block pattern names, most of us are probably familiar with the way these patterns look. At the Prairie Point Quilters Quilt Show that was held at the museum the first weekend in May, a wide variety of old and new quilt patterns were displayed. The success of this show reflects the continuing interest in quilts as both beautiful and functional works of art. The Morrison County Historical Society (MCHS) has several quilted items in its collection. Quilted items in the collection range from pillow covers and bedspreads to a variety of pieced and hand-stitched quilts. One of the oldest and best preserved is a beautiful blue and white quilt that was made in 1837. This quilt was donated to the museum in 1939 by the Lisle family of Royalton, Minnesota.
Quilting is a traditional craft that has existed for many centuries. As far back as the Middle Ages, quilted clothes and bed covers were made by sewing together two layers of fabric with an inner layer of warmer material sandwiched in between. Quilted material was used to construct warm clothing, such as corsets and coats, and was also worn beneath armor to protect the wearer’s skin. The earliest known visual reference to quilting can be found in a carved ivory figurine of a Pharaoh who has a quilted pattern on his robe. The figurine dates to around 3400 B.C. The oldest known existing quilts were made in 1392, one hundred years before Columbus is credited with discovering America. While the technique of quilting has basically not changed much since its beginnings, innovations in technology have greatly sped up the process. The production of commercial batting by the middle of the eighteenth century, for example, greatly assisted in the creation of quilted items.
Most of the quilts made in America before the middle of the eighteenth century are what is known as whole cloth or whole panel quilts. Scrap quilts did not become popular until after the Civil War. During the Victorian era, crazy quilts were all the rage. Part of the inspiration for this style of quilting came from the “crazed” ceramics and asymmetrical art that were featured in the popular Japanese Pavilion at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Crazy quilts were originally created more as show pieces than as functional bed covers. By the early twentieth century, quilting had come to be viewed as an art form as well as a functional craft.
The quilt donated to the museum by the Lisle family is a good example of an early nineteenth century American quilt. The blue and white color scheme had become common in America by 1835, just shortly before this quilt was created. The quilt top is composed of a series of large white cotton squares that have been pieced together. Alternating squares have a design of blue and white cotton calico. The design consists of a small pieced square with a group of three appliquéd petals at each corner. The same calico material trims a strip of white cotton that forms a border to the quilt. By the 1830s, American mills had begun producing cotton calicoes. Today, quilters can choose from a huge variety of natural and synthetic materials in a wide range of colors and patterns. While many of the quilts that are created today have been machine-quilted, the Lisle family quilt is entirely hand- stitched. It was not until 1851, with the approval of a patent, that sewing machines became increasingly available to the public.
The Lisle family quilt was made by Mary Drake Moorhead when she was about seventeen years old. Mary was the mother of Miranda Moorhead Lisle of Royalton. According to a Works Progress Administration (WPA) biography on Miranda’s husband, John W. Lisle, John and Miranda came to Morrison County from Ohio in 1888. By 1897, they had purchased a 240 acre farm east of Royalton. Part of the property they owned was within the Royalton city limits. John and Miranda had seven children. One of their sons, Leslie, was a former postmaster at Royalton and the author of the WPA biography on his father. According to Leslie, his father was “…one of the first, if not the first farmer to produce red clover in Morrison County.” In Clara Fuller’s book, “The History of Morrison and Todd Counties”, John is described as a skilled carpenter and the “distinguished” owner and driver of an automobile.
The Lisle family quilt was donated to MCHS after Miranda Lisle’s death in January 1937.
by Ann Marie Johnson
Copyright 2001, Morrison County Historical Society