1885 - 1895 Mary Harris's "Butter and Eggs" Quilt

In the late 1880s, track for the Cumberland Valley Branch of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad was being laid near the Siler, Kentucky, home of Mary Frances Steele Harris. It was one of many short lines that carried coal down the mountains to connect with the main line. According to family members, Mary Harris sold butter, eggs, and milk to the railway workers, which enabled her to purchase fabrics for making quilts. In this cotton quilt, she combined variations of “Carpenter’s Wheel” and “Crown of Thorns,” pieced patterns with quilted arcs and squares.
The quilt is comprised of twenty 10 ½-inch blocks and saw-toothed connecting arcs. The fabrics Mary used to create her pattern were plain-weave red, white, and green (now tan) cottons. Quilted arcs, parallel lines, and grids, 7 or 8 stitches per inch, completed the quilt.
Mary Francis Steele was born in Siler, Knox County, Kentucky, in 1861. Her father was Harrison Holmes Steele, her mother ( ? Barton) died when Mary was a young child. On November 30th, 1882, Mary married William Harvey Harris at the Harrison Steele home. By 1894 they had three children. Frances B. Steele is noted on the tombstone of her husband as wife of William Harvey Harris (1867-1927), but no dates were given for her. Mary’s “Butter and Eggs” quilt is a reminder of the ingenuity of rural women to use their entrepreneurial skills to obtain the materials to create objects of beauty for their homes.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Harris, Mary Frances Steele
Physical Description
fabric, cotton (overall material)
thread, cotton (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 81 in x 64 in; 206 cm x 163 cm
place made
United States: Kentucky, Siler
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Domestic Furnishings
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Stephens
Additional Media

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