1856 - 1857 Virginia Ivey's Russellville Fair Quilt

1856 - 1857 Virginia Ivey's Russellville Fair Quilt

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Virginia Ivey designed this white-work quilt to capture the excitement and lively interest of a county fairground in the mid-nineteenth century. The center circle, 40 inches in diameter, is edged by a board fence complete with gate. Inside the fence is the quilted inscription: "1856 A REPRESENTATION OF THE FAIR GROUND NEAR RUSSELLVILLE KENTUCKY." The central judges' pavilion with the judges, encircled by horses and riders, fair buildings and workers, animals of all sorts, and of course the fairgoers themselves, all in a state of arrested motion, contribute to the unique design.
Virginia Ivey's needlework and artistic skills resulted in a quilt that depicts the smallest details of fence rail, walking stick and saddle, or men shaking hands in greeting. The surface outline was quilted using two layers of fine white cotton with a thin cotton fiber filling, stitched through all three layers. The sculpted effect of the design was achieved with stuffed and corded quilting techniques and grounded with stippling, 12 stitches to the inch. The quilt is finished with a 4½-inch woven and knotted cotton fringe. Her needlework is often described as using needle and thread much like another artist might use pen or brush.
Virginia Mason Ivey was born on October 26, 1828 in Tennessee. She was the daughter of Mourning Mason and Capt. David Ivey, a farmer and soldier in the War of 1812. According to family information her father named her after his native state. When Virginia was a young child the family moved to Keysburg, a small town in Logan County, Kentucky. Aunt Jennie, as she was known to the family, according to her niece Ida B. Lewis, "never had any lessons in art-just-her own talent and creative instinct. She loved beauty in many forms and had a most attractive personality and was quite a pretty woman." Virginia Ivey never married and when she died she left this quilt to her niece, Lillian Virginia Lewis.
"I have a quilt which I value most highly. It was made by my aunt, Virginia M. Ivey. I cannot care for it much longer and I should like very much to know that it will have excellent care and that it will give pleasure to many people who will appreciate its remarkable workmanship and its great beauty". So wrote Lillian V. Lewis about the quilt she donated to the Museum in 1949. Now over 150 years old, this elaborate example of white-work quilting, "A REPRESENTATION OF THE FAIR GROUND NEAR RUSSELLVILLE KENTUCKY 1856," has been exhibited at fairs and museums and has won many prizes.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Object Type
date made
Ivey, Virginia Mason
Physical Description
fabric, cotton (overall material)
thread, cotton (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 86 in x 89 in; 218 cm x 227 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Miss Lillian V. Lewis
Expositions and Fairs
Sewing and Knitting
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Textiles
Popular Entertainment
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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"Virginia Ivey's quilt was introduced to the readers of McCall's Magazine by Eliza Calvert Hall in her article, "The Romance of Your Grandmother's Quilt, " in the February 1913 issue. Scans of the article's pages and transcribed text are now available on The Quilt Index (http://www.quiltindex.org/ephemera_full_display.php?kid=5D-A8-7)."

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