I hope you all had a wonderful time at last month’s Yard Sale, and were able to give new homes to lots of deserving fabric and books! I was sorry to miss it but unfortunately was on the wrong side of the country, attending a conference in Washington DC. Since my brother lives just outside DC, I also built a few extra days into the trip so I could visit him and do some touristy stuff.
I am a huge fan of the Smithsonian, and every time I’m in DC I try to get to at least one or two of the museums. One of my favorites is the National Museum of American History—at least in part because that’s where the Smithsonian’s quilt collection is housed! I had hoped to be able to see the famous Harriet Powers “Bible Quilt” on this visit, but unfortunately it wasn’t on display—but I did get to see a quilt being shown in the “American Democracy: A Leap of Faith” exhibit.
Well before women were allowed to vote, they used their quilts as a means of political expression—think of how many traditional quilt blocks are named after presidents! Women also made creative use of political campaign ribbons (the 19th century equivalent of today’s campaign buttons). The quilt I saw was made by Abigail Ann Lane; her husband was William Bagley Lane, an engraver/printer in Philadelphia, who printed (among other things) these sorts of ribbons. The Lane family history suggests that Abigail’s quilt was probably made from overstock. The quilt’s center is a small pieced star, but the rest is made up entirely of political ribbons—432 of them in three different designs. The most prevalent ribbon design was printed in honor of William Henry Harrison’s inauguration in 1841 (as you’ll recall, he was the president who died after only a month in office, which prompted a re-release of the inauguration ribbons with Harrison’s date of death added at the bottom!). The quilt appears to be in magnificent condition after almost 180 years; sadly, the exhibit notes didn’t give any information on whether this quilt was ever actually used, or just made as a “show” piece.
I don’t think that anyone would argue that some aspects of quilting have changed a lot since 1841. There have been huge changes even since I started quilting in 1989: that was the year Caryl Bryer Fallert scandalized the quilting world by winning the AQS Best of Show award with a machine-quilted entry, and my first quilting teacher was still sure that rotary cutters were a fad that would never last. But in other ways, we’re still very much like our quilting ancestors, using our art to express our opinions on a vast range of topics—anyone who attended QuiltCon (in either 2016 or 2018) saw plenty of social and political commentary in the quilts on display. I love the fact that, while our techniques may have evolved in ways our19th-century forbears could never have imagined, Abigail Ann Lane would still find something familiar in the quilts we make today.
See you at the meeting,