Quilt Honors Ishpeming ‘Gossard Girls’

From 1920 to 1976, the world’s largest maker of intimate apparel for women had a factory in Ishpeming.

The Gossard factory was the Midwest’s largest employer of women north of Milwaukee.

Now, a former Gossard employee and several of her friends have used their sewing skills to pay tribute to those women.

The Gossard Company of Chicago had an undergarment factory in what’s now the Pioneer Square building on Cleveland Avenue.

They also once had a factory in Gwinn.

Chris Wiik owns Viking Sewing Village in Marquette.

She worked for Gossard in Ishpeming for two years in the early ’70s.

Chris, and several friends, have produced a quilt to pay tribute to the company’s female employees, who called themselves ‘Gossard girls’.

Wiik says the two factories once had well over 500 female employees at the peak of production.

Esther Johnson, one of the quilters, says it was a pleasure to work on the quilt because she once had a very good friend who’d been a Gossard girl.

Johnson says the friend used to talk frequently about the exacting quality control standards Gossard had.

Judy Parlato, another of the quilters, knows quite a few Gossard girls in Gwinn.

She says she and her mother used to go to the Ishpeming factory to buy lingerie from a shop on the first floor.

The fabric itself used in the quilt actually came from the Ishpeming Gossard factory.

It had been used to make corsets back in the ’50s.

Last spring, someone gave the corset remnants to Phyllis Wong, wife of NMU President Dr. Les Wong, at a talk she gave about the Gossard girls.

She contacted Chris from there.

Wiik says although she wasn’t working at the factory in the ’50s — she was too young then — she could feel the spirit of those women while working on the quilt and it was a great feeling.

The Gossard girls will be an exhibit at a fall quilting show at NMU this weekend.

It’ll eventually be donated to the Marquette County History Museum to show people that iron ore isn’t the only world-class product to come out of the Ishpeming area.