Quilt Gallery

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The DAR Museum in Washington, D.C.

How is it that I lived in Washington, DC, for a couple of years yet never found my way to the DAR Museum? The Daughters of the American Revolution is, according to their web site, a "service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better education for children." Membership is limited to women who can demonstrate lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution.

As part of their mission to preserve American history, the DAR has amassed a large collection of early American decorative arts, now displayed in the the beaux arts building which first served as their headquarters. Adjacent to to the ellipse and the Old Executive Office Building, it is close to the mall and the museums of the Smithsonian. Rooms originally used as offices have been turned into period rooms, each demonstrating what a specific room might have looked like in a given state at a given time. For example, the Texas Room is furnished as a bedroom from a house in Alleyton, Texas, as it might have looked in the latter part of the 19th century.

The Texas Room

In addition to the period rooms, a dedicated gallery contains pieces in more conventional displays along with special exhibits. I was lucky to catch the "Eye on Elegance" exhibit which features early quilts from Maryland and Virginia. The DAR's own exceptional collection is enhanced with several pieces on loan from other institutions. It is an excellent exhibit of truly beautiful and superbly executed quilts. Each quilt is accompanied by information about the maker or makers, design influences, and techniques used, as well as explanations of overall styles and how they evolved over time and place.  Given the current popularity of quilting, I was astonished to find myself the sole visitor. I had the gallery to myself for a full hour! Entry is free and the exhibit runs through September 5th, 2015.

I purchased the exhibition catalogue and though am disappointed that some of the photographs are not sharp enough to show much detail, the accompanying history of these quilts makes it worthy of a place on my shelf. Fortunately, I was able to take my own photographs and they do show details quite well. You can click on each photo to see a higher resolution version and if you'd like to see more than the ones shown here, take a look at my Flickr page.

I find the early chintz appliqué quilts especially appealing for their subtle colors and overall elegant designs.

Floral applique quilt, Rebecca Sands Gladstone, about 1840-41

Framed medallion quilt, Amelia Heiskell Lauck, 1823

The quilts in this exhibit demonstrate extraordinary levels of technical skill. The lovely flower, fruit and feather designs on this framed medallion piece really stand out due to fine quilting.

Detail framed medallion quilt

Baltimore album quilt, Ruth Pettit Penn, about 1850

Detail of Baltimore album quilt, about 1848 

Reverse applique eagle quilt, 1830s

Detail of pheasant and plum tree quilt, Arianna Sollers Bouldin, about 1815-1825

Detail of sunburst quilt, 1830s

Mathematical star quilt, 1830s

Pieced star quilt, Mary Maccubbin Waters Waters, 1853

This pieced star quilt has some of the finest stitching (15-17 stitches per inch, according to the label) I have ever seen. Each background section is different, with birds, fish, flowers, and other designs, all beautifully drawn.

Detail of pieced star quilt

Detail of pieced star quilt

I am still marveling at how precisely these quilts were pieced. Note the straightness of the edges, the sharpness of all the points, and the exacting fussy cut prints of the inner corner stars.

Pieced and stuffed medallion quilt, Ludwell Harrison Goosley and daughters,  about 1810 and 1820s

Detail of pieced and stuffed medallion quilt

Tree of life and grapevine quilt, 1810s

These old quilts almost make me want to turn my back on the "modern" quilt movement and go back a couple of hundred years. Fortunately, modern tools allow me to be so productive that I can make "modern" quilts, old-style quilts, and everything in between. For near instant gratification I can make quilts using rotary cutters, sewing machines, and now a longarm machine for quilting. A few weeks ago, using the computer assisted option my longarm machine, I quilted this piece in well under two hours.

Thanks to Susan and Chris of Over the Top Quilting Studio for their help in getting me up and running with an APQS longarm and to Angela Hugli Clark of Thread Waggle Quilting for teaching me the ins and outs of designing and stitching with QuiltPath, the software that drives APQS machines.

Since the piecing is busy, the quilting isn't highly visible and so there was no point in using a complicated quilt design. I think the curves of the simple wave pattern I chose are just enough to offset the linearity of the piecing.

"Chinese Coins," inspired by a 1930s quilt of the same name in Roberta Horton's book "Scrap Quilts"

Now that I can quilt tops so quickly on my longarm machine, I have more time to do the hand piecing and hand quilting that I so enjoy. Much as I like finishing tops in a couple of hours on a machine, I think the look of hand quilting, which uses a single thread, cannot be matched by a machine, which uses two threads. Here is my current handwork project. I am just about ready to attach the final two sections of the outer border. Next time I think I will do the piecing by machine and save my hand sewing time for quilting.

No comments:

Post a Comment