The Smithsonian Collection of American Quilts

I learned many things this week on a trip to our nation’s capital.  In spite of the fact that I am “on the go” most every day, I really don’t travel too far from home on a regular basis.  My disclaimer today is that I am a rookie at blogging, but I thought it would be fun to document this trip.  I was also “bowled over” by the 2.5 hour presentation!  I felt like the Country Mouse from that folk tale! I remember being in DC with a class trip when my children were little, but other than that, probably once in 1973 to see the newly acquired panda bears at the Zoo!.  I had the opportunity to travel with a group of 8 ladies from my quilt guild to take a “behind the scenes” tour of the Smithsonian’s collection of American Quilts.  I had no idea what to expect.  I met my friends at 5 a.m. so that we could catch the train from our county’s train station.  DC’s Union Station was huge and beautiful!

We had breakfast at Union Station in DC before a bus picked us up to take us to the National Museum of American History.  We got off the bus in front of the museum, but I couldn’t help but take in the beauty of the area.   First of all, the weather was perfect.  Spring is arriving in our area. 

And because I knew we needed to do this…I talked someone into taking a picture of the 8 of us.


Twice a month, a group of 10 visitors are taken into an area that is reserved for the museum’s collection of quilts.  I was honored to be involved in this tour. Our docent tour guides were Carolyn and Mary. They wore white gloves to protect the quilts.



 I will say that my best efforts to take pictures and “notes” on my cell phone lasted only about half into the tour because my battery was quickly dying, so I am extremely grateful for the additional pictures that were taken by my friends Dianna Storck and Teri Hollenshade!  The “second half” pictures were taken by them.  I will also say that I tried to remember as many details as I could about the collection, but so much information was given, and it became overwhelming!  That being said…bear with me!

I learned that the first “quilts” were actually petticoats worn by the women in the early 1700’s.  They featured things like quilted animals, and is the earliest examples of quilting “whole cloth”.  Here are some examples.

There were whole cloth quilts and some known to quilters as “cheaters”!

This one was called Framed Center Quilt

The Fort Dearborn Quilt was done in the 19th Century, used almost 10,000 pieces of silk, and she drew little soldiers on (see in the first picture?)  Very cool!

There was a quilt called the Smuggler’s Quilt, made in 1780, quilted in the 19th century.

There is a quilt called the 1812 Quilt, done in Pinwheel pattern, which was particularly interesting to us.

I loved seeing the crazy quilts, both done in silks and wools.

There was a quilt that was made by a man in Alaska in the late 1800’s, using all 7/8” wool diamonds!

The Civil War Quilt from 1860 had embroidered details and authentic signatures of several presidents.

The Stars and Stripes Quilt from 1861 was shown.

I learned so much today, about techniques, the first sewing machine, and machine quilting, patterns like log cabins and Irish Chains, quilts that had 5,000 blocks in them, history of quilting, preserving quilts, and so much more. 

There were so many quilts that it became overwhelming for me to keep track of them after my phone battery gave out, so I will share a few pictures that my friends took, but if you are interested, I am including a link to the site where they are digitizing and documenting the history of these quilts.  Smithsonian Collections 


8 thoughts on “The Smithsonian Collection of American Quilts

    1. Knowing that American quilts were once used as “sexy” petticoats puts a whole new perspective on what was going on behind closed doors during the revolutionary war. Martha Washington must have been making George blush with warmth as he crossed the Delaware on that cold dark night.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi, and thank you so much! Martha Washington’s UFO was on display, but we were not allowed to take pictures of it (had nothing to do with the fact that it wasn’t finished!) Her granddaughter’s worked on it too!


    3. Hi, and thank you so much! Martha Washington’s UFO was on display, but we were not allowed to take pictures of it (had nothing to do with the fact that it wasn’t finished!) Her granddaughter’s worked on it too!


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