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Friday, October 4, 2013

The Smithsonian Quilt Collection

If you're ever planning a trip to our nation's capitol, you won't want to miss the opportunity to view some of the quilts in the Smithsonian's museum of American History!!  This was one of the highlights of my trip, to say the least.

The docents of the museum's quilt collection will take a very small group for a behind-the-scenes viewing of up to 30 of the museum's 300+ quilts in the national collection.  This opportunity is available on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, except in January, December and federal holidays.  Space is very limited, so the earlier you plan your trip, the better.  Reservations will be taken up to six months in advance.  If you get the chance to go more than once, you'll see different quilts in the collection!

Me and Marti, our wonderful and oh-so knowledgeable quilt guide
As with most items on view in a museum, unfortunately, and quite understandably, you can not touch or photograph the quilts.   In a climate controlled room, deep inside the museum, the quilts "live" tucked away in a these cabinets.  Each cabinet opens to reveal lots of sliding trays that hold each quilt.  Most are laying flat, but some are folded, all kept in an acid free environment with other very interesting techniques employed for conservation and protection.   

That said, it is a thrill to be inches....inches (!!) away from the quilt Martha Washington pieced!  I saw many other famous quilts such as the Benoni Pearce (1850) quilt, which is featured in many, many books, Mary C. Nelson's Eagle (1846) quilt, and Mary Rockhold Teter's (1861) Stars and Stripes, to name but a few.  There were whole cloth, crazy quilt, Baltimore album, pieced, applique...you name it, with several quilts bearing signatures of many eighteenth century presidents.  

Marti (pictured above) was our guide on our quilting trip into the past.  She and the other docents (lucky ladies!!) are very, very knowledgeable about the quilts in their care.  In some cases, there isn't a lot to tell about every quilt in the collection, but so many of them do have some provenance for the dates of the fabric or creation of the quilt, what area of the U.S. they were made, what family owned them, any special significance the quilt had, etc.  It truly was a history lesson presented in textiles.  There were four women (quilters) and three accompanying husbands on our tour, including my husband, who said he rather enjoyed himself.  Truth is, I forgot he was there!  (sshhh...don't tell him that!)

If you can't make it to Washington, D.C., you can view many of the quilts in the museum's collection.  They are slowly but surely working to add all of the quilts to the website.  Click here to see the Smithsonian quilt collection.

Now....back to work.  Watch for a BIG announcement coming next week!


  1. Sounds like a very cool experience!

  2. Thanks, Pam, for sharing the highlights of your visit to Washington DC. Brings back many memories. I did check out the Smithsonian website and bookmarked it so I can take my time perusing all the quilts. Hope I get to visit some time.

    Looking forward to hearing about your announcement. My curiosity is piqued.

    Charlotte from CA

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