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1850 - 1854 Mary C. Pickering's Applique Quilt

1850 - 1854 Mary C. Pickering's Applique Quilt

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In the mid-nineteenth century, Mary Carpenter Pickering made this appliquéd quilt while living in St. Clairsville, Ohio. According to family information, she began work on the quilt when a friend, John Bruce Bell, left St. Clairsville to accompany a wagon train to the Oregon Territory. He returned eight years later, and they were married. Her grandson, Robert S. Bell, wrote that Mary made the quilt “to make the time go more quickly” while John Bell was away in the Oregon Territory. The quilt is said to have won a blue ribbon at the Ohio State Fair in the early 1850s.
Baskets of flowers are appliquéd on nine blocks. These motifs are raw-edged, held down by close buttonhole stitching. The blocks alternate with all-white blocks that feature stuffed motifs of fruit and flower baskets, grapes and leaves, sprays of leaves and flowers, and a wreath. An appliquéd flowering-vine border completes the overall design of the quilt.
The background quilting patterns are parallel horizontal and diagonal lines about ¼-inch apart, 13 stitches to the inch. Roller-printed cottons are used for appliquéd motifs; the lining is plain white cotton. “Mary C. Pickering. St. Clairsville Ohio” is prominently back-stitched in black silk on one of the white blocks.
Mary Carpenter Pickering was born in Belmont County, Ohio, in 1831. She married John Bruce Bell on September 3, 1861, at New Athens, Ohio. Shortly after their marriage, John Bell joined the Union Army in 1862 for service in the Civil War. He was honorably discharged from the army in 1863 with disabilities that lasted for the rest of his life. They moved to Keokuk County, Iowa, in 1864 and raised nine children, three still living in the 1890s. Mary died in 1900. Her prize-winning appliquéd quilt was handed down in her family for three generations before being donated to the Smithsonian in 1981.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
date made
Pickering, Mary Carpenter
Physical Description
fabric, cotton (overall material)
thread, cotton, silk (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 89 in x 89 in; 226 cm x 227 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. Robert S. Bell in honor of the Frank Bell Family
Expositions and Fairs
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Textiles
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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