Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

Meet Me in St. Louis, Meet Me at the Fair

~ a crazy quilt from a century ago ~

My grandmother, Minnie Balster, made only one quilt in her life. Perhaps it was because her mother, Hanna, was such an avid quilter. It's hard to compete with that and what young woman wants to be like her mother? So when Minnie decided to make a special quilt she made a crazy quilt. The quilt was made sometime in the late 1890s. She was fortunate to have a wonderful source of fabric in discarded upholstery samples from the family furniture store.

What an elegant quilt this was to bring to her marriage to Frank Hanson in 1904. The quilt reflected her love of music and literature. No ordinary pieced quilt would have fit Minnie's view of the world. She and Frank enjoyed their honeymoon attending the great worlds fair in St. Louis. What an experience it must have been seeing this marvelous exposition set 100 years after the Louisiana Purchase. The fair commemorated both Thomas Jefferson's vision of a continuous continental United States and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

I know so little of my grandmother's life and wonder what part the quilt played in her new household. Did it have a special place in the parlor or was it tucked away somewhere to be kept for special occasions or perhaps even saved for 'someday'? It is in such good condition and with no fading so it must have been carefully cared for.

It wasn't until 10 years later that Minnie gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Verna. The little girl was the delight of Frank and Minnie's life only to be crushed by a sudden illness before she was 2 years old. It was a devastating tragedy to the couple and Minnie had a very bad time of it. The baby was never talked about in front of her future children and we may have never known if an aunt hadn't explained to my mother, what had happened, many years later.

Two years after Verna's death a son was born and after two more my mother was born into the family. Most of their childhood years were spent in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Unlike my fathers rollicking family tales, my mother told few childhood stories

I remember my grandmother as a reserved and serious woman. She never struck me as a happy person. My mother believed that Minnie would have been happier in modern times when she could have pursued a career.

When I look at the beauty of the quilt Minnie made over 100 years ago I wonder what her hopes and dreams were way back then. We all know that working on a quilt gives us time for musing. My grandmother's quilt is now folded on the shelf by my desk. If only that quilt could tell the stories, the secrets...

So today I offer you this little essay on Elsa (Minnie) Wilhelmina Balster who was born in 1882 and passed away in 1970. It seems a perfect moment to think about her, 100 years after the great fair that she attended in St Louis.

2004 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author.)

Click here to see Minnie's full crazy quilt

Recommended Websites:

Crazy Quilt History: A Victorian Craze

Victorian Era Quilts From Silk to Cotton


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