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'Broken Star' 4-H State Fair Quilt | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

'Broken Star' 4-H State Fair Quilt

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

'Broken Star' 4-H State Fair Quilt | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeQuilt design

Elda Strahm's quilt in color, 1931

Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #2005.115.1

EnlargeElda Strahm holding her quilt

Elda Strahm holding her quilt, 1931

Elda Strahm proudly displays a crib quilt she made in 1931. Source: Image courtesy of Elda and Linda Schiesser

EnlargeMy beautiful quilt

"My beautiful quilt", 1931

“My beautiful quilt,” as Elda titled this photograph from her 4-H record book (right), hangs on a clothesline at the family home in Green County, Wisconsin. Source: Image courtesy of Elda and Linda Schiesser

"Broken Star" quilt made from flour and feed sacks for a 4-H project, 1931.
(Museum object #2005.115.1)

Elda Strahm, a farm girl from York Township in Green County, Wisconsin, made this quilt as part of a 4-H project when she was just thirteen years old. Elda first joined 4-H in 1928 and by 1931, with the Great Depression well under way, her local 4-H group was emphasizing thrift projects, such as making clothes and bedding from empty flour and feed sacks. Over the next several years Elda would make over 70 items from these sacks, each recorded meticulously in her 4-H record books.

For this "Broken Star" quilt, a design popular among her mother’s friends, Elda set to work collecting flour sacks from her aunt and uncle's bakery and chicken feed sacks from her father. After bleaching them white, she used RIT dye to color some of the sacks yellow, red, pink, or green.

Elda's record book shows that she then cut 1,152 fabric diamonds from the sacks using a cardboard template, taking seven hours to complete the task. From December 27 to 31, 1930 Elda machine-sewed the quilt top together. After taking off New Year's Day, she began the quilting process choosing a cable design and feather wreaths filled with cross-hatching for her quilt pattern. Elda finished her quilt less than two weeks later on January 13, 1931.

Elda later submitted the quilt to the Wisconsin State Fair, but was somewhat discouraged with its showing there. Of her fair experience she wrote, "I did not receive such high prizes at the fair, was fourth in Display. Was a little disappointed but they told me I had to[o] many colors. Anyone always learns, sometimes it is a little late. But better late then never. I know I will get a lot of use from the articles I made."

Elda's record book notes that the whole project took 65 hours to complete and cost her $2.02 in supplies. At the time of its completion, she estimated that she could sell the quilt for $10, making her a profit of $7.98. Luckily for the Wisconsin Historical Society she did not do so, instead saving the quilt for over 70 years before donating it and several other family quilts to the Society's museum.

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[Source: Kort, Ellen. "Wisconsin Quilts: Stories in the Stitches" (Charlottesville, VA: Howell Press, 2001).]

Posted on August 04, 2005