Thursday, March 29, 2012

Behind the Scenes Tour -- Smithsonian Institute

That's the time I got up on Tuesday to go on a great field trip with other Country Piecemaker quilt guild members.  Nine of us were going to Washington, DC for a Behind the Scenes Tour of some of the Smithsonian Institute's quilts. 
 Nancy and Joan were checking out our goody bags made up by Donna, our "mama duck."  Thanks to Donna's great planning and organization we made all of our times and no one got lost. 
 Here we are riding Amtrak to Washington.  7 am train -- no wonder I had to get up around 5 am! 
Jane and Donna riding the Metro in DC.  Standing was fine in the morning but by the afternoon we were ready for seats... 
All 9 of us on the way to the American History Museum.  An iconic photo if ever there is one!   Thanks to a fellow tourist who volunteered to take a group shot.  The day before the weather was in the mid 70's.  But the day we went it was only in the 50s.  Hey, we are really lucky we didn't have rain and snow storms.
American History Museum of the Smithsonian Institute.  The cherry trees were past their peak but there were lots of flowering trees still gracing the landscape.
Kay waits for me while I try to snap some photos as we are led to see some great old quilts.  The tour was conducted in a 4th floor room where the quilts are stored in a temperature and humidity controlled room. The room is full of white metal storage cabinets with shallow drawers.  

Our three docents did a wonderful job -- we not only saw the quilts but heard the stories that go with them.  Here's a quick plug -- don't forget to SIGN your quilts with your name, the date and where you are.  I'm not as good as I used to be about this but if any of my quilts last 100+ years I sure would like to be remembered as the quilt maker and that won't happen if you don't SIGN your quilts! 
And here are some of the quilts we saw: 
The Copp Quilt -- RJR produced a line of fabrics from this quilt in the 90's.  
The Martha Washington Quilt -- an unfinished top made by Martha Washington as told by her grand daughter. EP Custis left a note that said "This quilt was  entirely the work of my grandmother as far as the plain border I finish'd it in 1815 (?) and leave it to my Rosebud."
The Charlotte Roe quilt made in 1806.  
This is the 1812 quilt said to have been made while the men were fighting the British in the War of 1812.   This was the first block we made in our 1800's Block of the Month quilt.
And a close up of the 1812 quilt. 
  This is a spectacular radiant star quilt.  The outside is Broderie Perse.  Broderie Perse is a printed design cut out from fabric and then appliqued to the new piece.  Although it isn't popular today it was extremely popular in the 1700's and early 1800.  Printed chintz was being produced in the United States so quilt makers put it to use.  
A variation of a 8 pointed star.  Remember, these quilts were made with template and no precision rulers and quick methods.  Some were made without sewing machines, all by hand.  YIKES. 
And, of course, there were several gorgeous Baltimore Album quilts.  The colors in the fabrics were fabulous.  I recognized some since reproduction fabrics have been made from some of these quilts. 
 This was an interesting top made of wool military uniforms. The man who made it was stationed in Alaska for several years and completed the top while living there.  It is made entirely of diamonds that you can see in the picture below of the back of the top.  (Except -- it looks like some hexagons also... oops, faulty memory!) 
As the tour was winding down we asked about the oldest quilt in the collection.
 This was made from a wedding gown that was never worn.  The maker's fiance was killed.  It was made in the 1700's and looked brand new.  It probably was never used.  
 Here we are at the end of our tour.  The lady in the red sweater was a fabulous guide and obviously had done much research, especially being able to tell the stories behind the quilts.  She is a volunteer as were her two assistants. 
I got a special bonus at the end of the tour.  Kevin was able to come over from the Department of Labor and have lunch with us. (We ate in the museum restaurant but, wow!  It was expensive!) 

After lunch we viewed the gowns of the First Ladies.  I can remember seeing them when I was living in northern Virginia when I was in elementary school.  At the time every First Lady was represented.  Now, many are represented, but not all.  We also were able to see the flag that hung over Ft. McHenry that inspired the words to the Star Spangled Banner.  It's HUGE!  

I could tell you about the return trip but just scroll up and reverse the trip!  We were totally exhausted when we got home but really enjoyed ourselves. 
Happy Quilting All!  


  1. What an adventure and an exceptional day you had. Thanks for taking and posting photos.

    Was this a special tour or can anyone request it?

  2. WOW what a fabulous tour, certainly worth getting up at 5am for lol! What gorgeous quilts, my fave being the Copp quilt because i love scrappy quilts and i really love the 8pointed star quilt too!! Isn't it great that you could take photos of these priceless treasures!
    Thanks for sharing, Bonnie!! i'm going back for another look :)) cheers, Marian

  3. Absolutely wonderful. Thank you for sharing. How nice that you got to see them.

  4. Bonnie, thank you for sharing your wonderful tour with us!

  5. Wow, I'm so jealous! I just love that 9 patch quilt - simple but really beautiful.

  6. Sounds like a magnificent trip with "the girls." Lovely, lovely quilts for sure.

  7. You are so lucky....I would have loved to see those quilts. Hugs

  8. The Smithsonian is great no matter what you go to see, but your quilt tour is fabulous. Lots of jealous quilters out here now! :-)

  9. Thanks for sharing Bonnie. And it's especially nice you got to share the day with your friends who love quilting too! If I ever get back there it will be with DH in tow and I know he won't be as excited as your tour group.

  10. Bonnie- thank you for sharing the picture of Copp Quilt! The reproduced pattern has been on my list for many years. I wonder if the fabric I have set aside for it is the repro collection? Hmmm-

  11. What a wonderful tour! Did you have to schedule that ahead of time? We were in D.C. in October and I only saw three quilts total.

  12. What a wonderful experience! Thank you for sharing this with us.


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