Saturday, June 27, 2015

Caroline Fairbanks' Civil War Quilt

Reproduction of Caroline Fairbank's Civil War quilt

This reproduction quilt made by Patricia L. Cummings (in spring 2011) re-creates the feeling and intent of a pieced quilt created by Caroline ("Carrie") Fairbanks of Brandon, Vermont during the Civil War in 1862. Her name is shortened to "Caro" on her gravestone to "Caro" most likely because the stone is so narrow and perhaps to save money on the price of the inscription. She donated her quilt to the U.S. Sanitary Commission and it is one of the few known (7?) extant Civil War quilts that bear the USSC stamp. A photo of her, provided by her great-grandson, is one that I printed and made into a mini-quilt to attach to the quilt itself with a small hat pin. The original quilt re-used pieces of a brown calico dress that she recycled for this purpose. The other (white) fabric may be from a bed sheet.

The original quilt bears 23 religious inscriptions from hymns, the Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer. I inked all of the same inscriptions with permanent ink onto the reproduction quilt top (and two of those are located on the back). Written messages are seen on other Civil War quilts and were included to cheer the recipients. A prime example is a quilt made in Maine by a school teacher and her students, now held by the Smithsonian Institution.

Caroline Bowen Fairbanks married her cousin, Luke B. Fairbanks, a Union soldier, on Christmas Day 1862. He was one of six brothers who served in the war. He was wounded in the arm while crossing a river while holding his rifle high so it would not get wet. He delayed returning to his regiment until the following April. According to Grant Fairbanks, Jr., when Luke was asked where he had been all that time, he replied that he had been captured by the enemy for awhile, a likely alibi as that often happened. Actually, it seems he had been a "prisoner of love."

My quilt is not an exact reproduction, size-wise or otherwise. Also, as a decorative feature, I decided to tie the corners of the blocks with embroidery floss. According to Don Beld, this is the only known surviving soldier's quilt made by just one person working alone, that was donated to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Seemingly, most of the USSC quilts were group-made.

Carrie's quilt features the "Snowball" pattern. For the (pieced) blocks in this quilt, I made larger "corners" than those present on the original quilt and also utilized a quicker method of "flip and sew," piecing with a sewing machine rather than hand piecing. The Fairbanks quilt is now owned by the Vermont Historical Society and was acquired when a museum in Pennsylvania decided to de-accession it. Recently, we had the opportunity to see the quilt on display in Montpelier, Vermont.

Patricia Cummings
member of the American Quilt Study Group
To see other newly-made Civil War inspired quilts, visit:

Post a Comment