applique bedcover

Helen Gilchrist (1831 - ?)
Appliqué Bedcover, circa 1848
cotton, approximately 93 by 93 inches 
Illinois State Museum Collection,
Gift of Mrs. Fred J. Crilly, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (1966.16) 

The Gilchrist family lived on a small farm in western Illinois. The Gilchrists wanted their children to be well educated and prepared for adult life. When the children reached age twelve, their parents sent them east for schooling. Helen was sent to live for several years at the home of an aunt who ran a School for Young Ladies. 

Gilchrist farm

One of the skills that Helen learned in her studies to become a good wife and mother, was sewing. She cut and sewed these appliqué designs onto a large piece of cloth to make a summer bedcover (which like a quilt from a distance, but has no batting or backing layers). The style of the appliqué motifs is Classical Revival and the theme is patriotic. To learn more about it, see Appliqué Bedcover in the quilting module Keeping Us in Stitches.

She may have made this bedcover for her hope chest (a collection of hand-made textile items a girl made to use when she married). She probably also made hand towels, handkerchiefs, quilts, pillowcases, sheets, crocheted doilies, and other decorative objects. The items would have been put away until she was married, then used in her new family.

For more information about Helen's schooling and abilities, see the Classical Revival Piano and the excerpt from The Story of a Piano. The second one, written by a daughter-in-law on Helen's 50th wedding anniversary, is a tale (told in the first person by the piano) of the journey west, and the move to her new husband's home.