Museums · Quilts · Travels

A Piece of Her Mind: DAR Exhibit 2019


When my husband and I traveled to Washington, D.C. recently, we took in an exhibit at the DAR Museum titled, A Piece of Her Mind.  It had a focus on how technology — in an historical sense — affected quilters at an earlier time, just as much as it affects us today.  I thought you’d like to see some of the quilts, so here we go.


I actually have to give a lecture in 2020 about the impact of technology, and all that was swirling around in my mind were topics such as social media, rotary cutters, our fancy high-speed sewing machines.  But this showed me that technology’s impact is not just a recent phenomena.


An example of a table-top sewing machine with foot pedals was in front of a beautiful quilt of basket blocks.


The blocks were appliqued (interesting to note her use of black thread, no matter what color the fruit), and from the appearance of it, stuffed (trapunto?).  It also looks like she quilted the “plain” blocks first, then sewed the basket blocks in between the quilted blocks — a really unusual way to construct a quilt.


The Red and Green Bethlehem Star Quilt (1840-1860) benefitted from the relatively new ‘Turkey red’ dyes.  According the title card, previous to this invention, “dying cloth this color of red was a complicated dye process. [In addition] [g]reen had to be dyed in two steps (yellow, then blue) until late in the 1800s, but a more reliable option called ‘chrome green’ provided the leafy and emeral hues seen in mid-century quilts.”  This cotton quilt was made by Sarah Hall Gwyer (1819-1882) in North Carolina, or Omaha, Nebraska.



I loved this broderie perse (or appliquéd chintz panel) quilt from the 1820s not only because of the design, but because of those stitches!  Seeing evidence of another woman’s handwork always makes a quilt more personal for me.


This Baltimore Album Quilt is from about 1850, and is made by a member of the Hayden family from Baltimore, Marlyand.  It’s cotton, with wool embroidery.


This appliqué quilt was made by Mary Swearingen King (1811-1902) in Findlay, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.  I loved the applique birds:


They look almost pre-historic, here, feeding berries to their young.


Beyond the technology-oriented quilts, there was a section on quilts that were affected by the culture of the day.  I was drawn to the red, white and blue quilts.  That center block is the flag from Cuba, explained below:


I zoomed way in (the ropes around the quilts didn’t permit close inspection) so the picture is a bit globby, but you can see the Clay ribbon in the outside border.

The exhibit also had a series of crazy quilts, some quilts made with toile prints, and quilts inspired by popular fictional characters.

DCDAR_10 library

Afterwards we went to the library–quite stunning in a panoramic view.


There was also a quilt of another kind in the Renwick Gallery, just up the street, made out of snippets of movie film.  The title of this is “Fibers and Civilization (1959)” and was made in 2009, using 16 mm film and polyamide thread.  This piece of art is from Sabrina Gshwandtner, and I’d seen some of her work before at LACMA.


Then we hopped on the Metro and went over to the National Museum of American History.  Can you tell I looked up on the internet where all the quilt exhibits were?


Unfortunately, this spectacular quilt was behind a piece of highly reflective glass, so the only way I could get a photo was to gently lean my photo lens on the glass to cut the glare.  This means that I couldn’t get a photo of the complete quilt, but here are some segments.


In another small exhibit, they had a lot of crazy quilts.


I was quite interested in what this title card (above) said about the advent of patterns for crazy patchwork.


In between all this, we stopped for some lobster rolls at Luke’s Lobster shop, meandered around the Mall, and hung out together.  We really like DC, as you probably know.  More photos can be found on Instagram.

DCDAR_pressclub.jpgFall Cookies 2019

Later that week we had a gathering at the The National Press Club in D.C., where they host the White House Correspondent Dinners, and we had a spread of yummy desserts to choose from.  I chose one of these (it’s the color, naturally!) after I’d had the requisite chocolate treat.

So, here’s your spot of fall color–happy quilting!


14 thoughts on “A Piece of Her Mind: DAR Exhibit 2019

  1. I learn more and more about the history of quilts and quilting all the time! And what a place Washington must be if there are multiple quilt exhibits to be seen! Thanks for taking me along….

  2. I was really tied up with the EMGS meeting but I’m so happy you are sharing the quilts I missed! I caught you EPPing during one meeting break and have been following your blog since returning to Little Rock.
    Bo Mittelstaedt

  3. Thank you for sharing your pictures of the quilts. I have seen the machine quilted quilt before in a quilt magazine about 25 years ago. It was a featured article.

  4. Thank you for sharing these gorgeous quilt!!!
    my daughter lives in DC so I should scoot down there and see them

  5. Thanks so much for the fine photographs. I’ve been collecting antique quilts for years and learning how to tell their age by the fabric used, as well as the patterns,such as the crazy quilt. I spent quite a while studying each photograph to add to my knowledge.

  6. Thanks for the quilting documentary. I learned a few new things. It’s been years and years since I’ve been to DC.

  7. Second to being there is looking at pictures. 🙂 I love the 1891 quilt and think it looks quite modern (even though the pieces are small). And I am amused by patterns for crazy quilts blocks.

  8. I sure enjoyed this post, Elizabeth! Thank you for sharing the quilt-related part of your visit to Washington D.C. One of these years, I’m gonna make it to DC myself. But seeing those quilts was wonderful! I am especially enthralled with the 1891 quilt by Rutherford Fisher. My goodness, it could be a 2019 improv quilt with just a few fabric modifications! I love it! And I appreciate knowing that women expressed their political and personal views through their quilts. In our politically contentious culture, it can be challenging to view such quilts… I know I’ve struggled with them, particularly when I repeatedly see only one point of view. But what a good way to express ourselves, right? I’m glad you had the chance to visit these quilt displays, and especially to eat such delicious-looking cookies!

  9. Beautiful quilts – thank you for sharing them. I have to admit that I too was surprised the first time I was a pattern for crazy patchwork. It just seems so wrong for something that is supposed to be spontaneous!

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