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Special Projects: Governor's Mansion Project

Illinois Governor's Mansion Project
Hinsdale Embroiderers' Guild Contribution to History

The Hinsdale Embroiderers’ Guild was invited to produce two textile works. One was a reproduction of an 1880 paper pieced quilt for a crib, and the second was to design and complete a needlepoint of the 1880 Governor’s Mansion.

The Background

In preparation for the Illinois bicentennial celebration in August 2018, then Governor Bruce Rauner and First Lady Rauner created the Illinois Executive Mansion Association to preserve and enhance the Illinois Executive Mansion in Springfield, Illinois. The Mansion had fallen into disrepair with water damage caused by a leaking roof and failing plumbing slowly and steadily marring the wallpaper and leaving brown water stains on the walls, falling plaster, and black mold in the basement. The exterior and landscaping were also affected as overgrown foliage obstructed views and decorative features were missing, bricks crumbling, and wood rotting. Repairs had been neglected due to financial issues that directed focus elsewhere. The 2018 renovation was supported by private donations.


After reading in the Chicago Tribune about the Governor’s Mansion Renovation project, Betsy Malone asked the Hinsdale Embroidery Guild for authority to offer our assistance with the renovation. She contacted State Representative Patti Bellock for her guidance with regard to the Guild’s participation in completing appropriate textile items.

Patti’s enthusiastic response led to more discussion with State Representative Sara Wojicicki Jemenez. Sara then introduced her to the Mansion Project Director, Marilyn Cagnoni. Marilyn directed the guild in January 2018 to submit a proposal to the Mansion Board. One week after submission Alex Krikhaar, Architect and Designer of the Project, contacted us for a meeting to discuss possible commissions.

As a result of these meetings, the Hinsdale Embroiderers’ Guild was invited to produce two textile works. One was a reproduction of an 1880 paper pieced quilt for a crib, and the second was to design and complete a needlepoint of the 1880 Governor’s Mansion.

In March 2018, the Guild discussed and approved completing these Commissions. The Guild’s President, Cindy Vander Woude, led the effort to maximize participation by all 36 Guild members. This effort led to numerous enthusiastic members offering to help complete these works. Anne Zick became Quilt Chair, while Libby Sturdy, the designated Needlepoint Chair.

Many of our members made financial contributions to fund these projects. A contribution by members of the Mansion Renovation Board was also received. We could not have completed these works without these generous donations.

The Quilt

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When Betsy Maloney proposed to the Hinsdale Embroiderers Guild that we contribute our talents to the Governor’s Mansion Renovation Project, a suggestion was made that we make a Crazy Quilt.  Betsy presented a proposal to Alex and Justin of the architectural committee armed with the book , Four Centuries of Quilts – The Colonial Williamsburg Collection  by Linda Baumgarten and Kimberly Smith Ivey. 

Alex and Justin saw in the book a Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt that they felt would be a better fit with the renovation plans. We made a decision to make this a group project and our members heartily agreed.

After a meeting with the architectural staff, Betsy returned with color pictures of the carpet, wall coverings, and several paintings that would be used in the finished children’s room and from which we would draw our fabric and colors.  Our project would be to make a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt that would cover a child’s crib. 

Since the room was to be renovated in the 1870’s-1880’s period, we were aware that we should select reproduction fabric.   Betsy and Anne Zick spent a day selecting fabric at a fabric store in Winfield and another one in Fox River Grove.  The fabric selection in blue, burgundy, brown, green, gold and off-white was approved by the architectural committee before we could proceed.

The method of quilting for a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt was English Paper Piecing which entails basting fabric to a paper template and whipstitching the templates right sides together.  When this process is totally completed and all of the flowers are sewn together, the basting and papers are removed just before assembling the top, batting, and backing. 

Packets were made of the “flowers” and “paths” (connectors) and passed out to the 24 members who assembled them over the summer. Several 

members also sewed together the divided up sections of the quilt.  The borders were cut and appliqued to the quilt by another guild member. 

Betsy gathered the information that was to be on the quilt label; the information label was sewn into the backing fabric.  The quilt was then hand quilted through all three layers around each hexagon by two guild quilters who preferred to hand quilt in keeping with the Grandmother’s flower quilts of the past. At last, the quilt was completed and ready for the crib in the Mansion’s children’s room.

The Needlepoint

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HEG member and needlepoint artist, Libby Sturdy took on the challenge of completing the needlepoint reproduction of the Governor’s Mansion circa the 1880’s.

In order to accurately reproduce the mansion, Libby researched old black and white photos and drawings which gave the appearance of the mansion but all were in perspective. She needed a frontal view to showcase all the mansion’s details from the front entrance with curved front doors to the number of window panes in each window, the corbels and grand cupola – now hidden under the raised roof. Luckily the mansion’s website and even E-bay gave her lots of pictures including the all-important frontal view.

A June meeting with architect Alex Krikhaar provided the paint color scheme of dark forest green, stone heath and gray green. A trip to Springfield in August with several guild members determined the extra needed details and brick colors.

After many drafts on tracing and sketch paper, Libby drew, then painted the mansion on 18 mesh petit point needlepoint canvas. Petit point canvas afforded the best opportunity for minute detail down to the front door doorknobs, hanging pendant light and intricate porch railings.

18 mesh canvas is an open woven cotton product with the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads equaling 18 stitches each way or 324 stitches per square inch. The final painting was approximately 21” wide by 19” tall – equaling 129,276 basic stitches. Stitchers sometimes had to use a magnifying glass to know how to place the stitches.

Finding threads to match the color scheme was a challenge. Remaining true to the 1880’s, we used only cotton, silk or wool threads but chose modern threads including, not only the threads mentioned, but threads that are smooth or textured; mixes and blends of cotton, wool and silk; some that were overdyed or space dyed; metallics, rayon and even thread made of bamboo. Libby visited seven shops before she found the exact threads to match the mansion’s paint scheme and the elusive brick colors.

Setting up a workshop in her home required some more research. First, finding adjustable stretcher bars to mount and keep the canvas taut for stitching and second, a floor stand large enough to hold the stretched canvas for hands free stitching. She was lucky to find an Illinois company, Adjust-a-Frame in Cary for the stretcher bars and designed a double floor stand out of two that she had that would hold the weight and size of the canvas-she also needed two metal yardsticks, wood strips and lots of blue tape!

The stitches were picked to complement the mansion’s details taking into account each area’s scale, proportion, direction, shape and texture. Instead of stitching the whole piece in the 130,000 basic stitches of basketweave or continental, we chose “fancy” decorative ones. Stitchers learned how to mix and blend threads – up to four different colored or textured threads in one needle  and to shade, highlight or give dimension.

Twenty-two Guild members and a few friends and family ages ranging from 38 years to 85 years stitched for 786 hours to complete the canvas. The needlepoint reproduction of the mansion was finally ready to present to the new Governor’s wife, Mrs. Pritzker in October of 2019.

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