Monday, February 17, 2014

Eleanor Beard Update

Cottage Industries and Whole-cloth Quilts

In July 2010 I blogged about Eleanor Beard and Vera Neumann.  You can read that post by clicking on the highlighted words above.

Below are more textiles of early corded and quilted pieces from the Kentucky studio of Eleanor Beard.

Rayon or "artificial silk" quilts reflected a sea change in crib quilts style-wise in the late 1920s-1940s. They never became as widely popular to make, however, as patchwork quilts. Having raised three babies, it strikes me that these were "for show" quilts. In my opinion, no mother in her right mind would want to use them for daily use for they are very slippery.

Photos 1-3 are of an Eleanor Beard receiving blanket found recently on eBay.  Unfortunately, the photos are not the best quality. This small blanket has a great deal of shattering to its delicate silk fabric. Note the specific reference to the cording and how it was done in Xenia Cord's comments below. Very interesting!

Receiving blanket #1

Receiving blanket #2

Receiving blanket #3 with Eleanor Beard label.

Cottage Industries and Whole-cloth Quilts

Quilt historian Cuesta Benberry wrote about Beard's quilting business in "Cottage Industries: A Chronicle," in Quiltmaking in America: Beyond the Myths edited by Laurel Horton and published by AQSG in 1994. Copies are readily available through the AQSG office at a very reasonable price.  Click here for contact information.  If you enjoy quilt history, this is is a "must have" book.

According to Benberry, the Eleanor Beard Hedgelands Studio of Hardinsburg, Kentucky got its start a result of Eleanor's husband accepting raw wool in return for goods purchased at his general store as he tried to help the cash poor local people get thru hard times.  As the story goes, when Eleanor "discovered" this cache of wool in the attic, she saw a business opportunity, had it cleaned and processed, and employed local women to begin making silk comforters in a form we call "wholecloth" quilts today. 

Below is a long quote fromAQSG member Xenia Cord that I am using with permission.(Comments like Xenia's are typical of the exchanges on the American Quilt Study Group history list. Access to the discussion list is one of the perks of membership in the organization.)

"Another exciting fabric new to the market was rayon, or artificial silk. Although the man-made fiber was invented in 1884, its full commercial capabilities were not realized until after World War I. At that time the rise in "boudoir quilts," as marketed by The Wilkinson Art
Quilt Company in Indiana and the Eleanor Beard Studios in Kentucky, made quilters aware that the soft, shiny fabric, like silk and satin, could be used to create copies of luxury beddings. 

Two sides of a small EB handkerchief bag beautifully corded and quilted
that recently sold on eBay.

Following WW I the wool market was depressed for some reason, and Eleanor Beard's husband was heavily invested in sheep. EB devised a retail market in which wool could be used for batting, developing whole cloth quilts and eventually other "boudoir" items as well (lingerie bags, handkerchief bags, bed jackets, baby buntings, jackets and hats and so on), which were quilted in the whole cloth style and often stuffed or corded. She employed quilters in the area of Hardinsburg, Kentucky, to do the labor; apparently women came into town on Fridays to be paid and turn in completed items, and to pick up new ones that had been marked for quilting. The narrow cording or stuffed work was done with an ingenious machine in which fine fibers were blown into quilted channels, through a needle-like tube (I think the machine still exists and is used).

 Eventually the market was expanded to include Madison Avenue boutiques,fittings for staterooms on luxury liners, and a commission line for Hollywood stars and others who were well-heeled. .... EBS offerings were commonly done in that beige-peach color seen in corsets and other lingerie, either in silk or rayon. Labels are usual; my understanding is that "Eleanor Beard Studios" came before "Eleanor Beard Incorporated" but I don't know when that shift occurred.

Xenia Cord also mentions Beard in her 1995 paper "Marketing Kit Quilts in the 1920s and 1930s" (pages 139-173) in Uncoveringsthe annual volume of quilt research papers published by AQSG.

Eleanor Beard's wholecloth quilts were similar to the blue and salmon-pink one seen here, although this one is made of satin rather than silk. 

Click here to some examples of beautiful wholecloth quilt designs available today.

The history of the cottage industries in the Appalachia area is a very interesting study.  I highly recommend taking the time to explore the historic Craft Revival and its impact on this area of the country. Although this particular North Carolina website is not addressing Kentucky where Eleanor Beard's business resided, the trials and tribulations surrounding those who were hired to work from their homes during the Craft Revival period were very similar within the greater Appalachia region.  

Today the history of the craft revival within the Appalachia region continues to stir up discussions of sociological issues as our society ever wrestles with the questions of equal pay and fair play. Eleanor Beard is specifically mentioned in some of this research.

Wholecloth Crib Quilt No. 1

Here are a couple of whole cloth crib quilts from my collection made "in the spirit of"  Eleanor Beard.  Each is of a slightly different fabric. None has a label. I have another but can't put my hands on the photos yet so will have to add it later.

40.5 inces by 33 inches. Knife edge finish.

The color is a creamy green on one side.

This quilt is reversible.

Attempting to show you the finished edge.

Now you see it from the other side, a creamy peach color.

Wholecloth Crib Quilt No. 2

This quilt is pink on one side and soft silvery blue on the other.

Do quilters still call these Prairie Points? The points measure about 7/8 inches deep on this quilt. Though the quilt is hand quilted the points are machine attached between a knife edge finish.

The center medallion design on this quilt measures 17 1/8 inches by 15 1/2 inches. The first quilted border measures 5 inches wide; the 2nd measures 3 inches wide.

Here is a McCall's pattern for the type of wholecloth satin or rayon quilts as seen above.

This link was just posted on one of the quilt history discussion lists I subscribe to. It is a beautiful orange-red and salmon-orange two-sided Eleanor Beard full-sized bed quilt being offered by Maire McLeod at Ruby Lane here.

Here is another recent link on satin crib quilts posted to the Quilts-Vintage & Antique discussion list.  The article itself was posted by Dawn Cook-Ronningen to her blog "Collector With A Needle" in 2013.  Dawn's blog is a MUST read!


  1. Wonderful post, Karen. Really enjoyed it! I have only seen boudoir quilts a couple of times in antiques shops here in New England. One was in great condition. We always regret the things we don't buy.

    1. Amen to that, Patricia! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. As you well know, its greatly appreciated that the stuff we love to write about gets read.

  2. Karen, great post. I bought an Eleanor Beard quilt on eBay last year. It's cotton with an appliqued border, nothing in the center. I'll share the photo with you once I get it taken.

    1. Would love to see a photo of your EB quilt, Beth! Thanks for stopping by.