Remembering the 1st Minnesota

Remembering the 1st Minnesota

When I realized the 2014 Quilt Study was going to be on the Civil War, I decided my home state of Minnesota would be my “jumping-off point.” The Civil War exhibit at the Minnesota History Center was right in front of me! On display was a beautiful red, white and blue star quilt, dated 1864, made by Emelina Bistodeau and five other unnamed women.

After visiting the exhibit, I was able to photograph the quilts in the History Center’s archives. What an unexpected treat! Actually touching Emelina’s quilt and helping to unroll it was quite a different experience than seeing it through a display case. Viewing the workmanship, piecing and quilting was quite humbling; and to think, this incredible quilt was made during the Civil War. The star design and choice of colors seemed appropriate for the time.

Emelina’s quilt design, All Hands Around, consists of LeMoyne stars. Originally I had planned to duplicate the quilt in miniature, but creating even the first block was a challenge for me! After a few unsuccessful attempts at making the blocks without “modern conveniences,” I discovered a wonderful LeMoyne star ruler. But even with my stars looking better, I decided to make a simplified version of the original. I now see Emelina’s quilt as beautiful in its “simplicity.”

While cutting my blocks I realized I had different qualities of fabrics and was a bit upset thinking my blocks wouldn’t be consistent. I finally asked myself, “What did our ancestors have available to them?” Early quilters had neither an unlimited fabric selection nor convenient tools, but their quilts are as beautiful as any created today.

While reading some of our history, I discovered Minnesota was the first state to respond to President Lincoln’s request for volunteer regiments; 25,000 men, or about half our eligible male population, left their homes to serve. The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Division mustered in in April of 1861 and marched from Ft. Snelling to St. Anthony in May. I have dedicated my quilt to the memory of those who served in the First Minnesota.

Who knows – perhaps Emelina, who lived in St. Anthony, was there to support these courageous men when they left their families, and maybe she had them in mind when she made her star quilt.