Lewis’ Big Yellow Star

Lewis’ Big Yellow Star

As tempers were unraveling just prior to the Civil War, Lewis Hall Frost (1826-1910) and Adaline Lewis Frost (1835-1899) were starting their family. First came James W. in 1856 and then Lewis Edson (1858-1953). Adaline proved herself a practiced and exacting quilter as she made Bethlehem Star crib quilts for both children.

Lewis’ quilt is my inspiration quilt. I wondered if Adaline had chosen the warm two-toned yellow fabric for the star to symbolize a bright guiding light. Or maybe the reason was much simpler. Perhaps that fabric was the only fabric she had in the amount she calculated she would need! The star is impressive. It’s beautifully pieced, lies almost flat, and the yellow a nice contrast with the plain white muslin in the star and the Flying Geese. The “sky” fabric, however, was very unattractive! I was intrigued, though. It was likely an overdyed green, originally, and lost its color when exposed to alkaline soaps of the day. Enough of the dyes disappeared so all that remains is a greenish-yellow khaki color and some very small faded blue solid dots in no discernable pattern. Not visible in the Quilt Index photo, dots were clearly visible when viewing the actual quilt at the New England Quilt Museum! That quilt had obviously been through a lot, so I figured there was a good story in there somewhere.

When planning my study quilt, I decided to adopt the entire quilt design that Adaline drafted and pay homage to that. I approximated the size of the original (30” x 38” vs 36” x 44”), but I knew I had to use different fabrics in order to make the quilt really mine. I liked the idea of a yellow star, though. I usually welcome a good challenge so, although not a practiced hand-sewer, I attempted to hand-piece individual diamonds. I wasn’t accurate enough; therefore strip-piecing became my method of choice! I did feel that my study quilt deserved to be hand-quilted, so I did that….with trepidation! Adaline’s quilting was small, straight, and even. Of interest is that when still a child, Lewis pieced an 87” x 87” quilt of 4-patches set on-point. Adaline quilted it later and presented it to him and his bride, Lillian Birdsey (1859-1960).

This was my first quilt study, and what I learned was how to work the process and how to do it differently next time. Of great interest within this research was how 19th-century fabric dyes developed.