National Quilt Collection
"Quilt": A cover or garment made by putting wool, cotton or other substance between two cloths and sewing them together. An American Dictionary of the English Language, by Noah Webster, LL.D., New York 1828.
The National Quilt Collection incorporates quilts from various ethnic groups and social classes, for quilts are not the domain of a specific race or class, but can be a part of anyone’s heritage and treasured as such. Whether of rich or humble fabrics, large in size or small, expertly crafted or not, well-worn or pristine, quilts in the National Quilt Collection provide a textile narrative that contributes to America’s complex and diverse history. The variety and scope of the collection provides a rich resource for researchers, artists, quilt-makers and others.
Part of the Division of Home and Community Life textiles collection, the National Quilt Collection had its beginnings in the 1890s. Three quilts were included in a larger collection of 18th- and 19th-century household and costume items donated by John Brenton Copp of Stonington, Connecticut. From this early beginning, the collection has grown to more than 500 quilts and quilt-related items, mainly of American origin, with examples from many states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Most of the contributions have come to the Museum as gifts, and many of those are from the quilt-makers’ families. The collection illustrates needlework techniques, materials, fabric designs and processes, styles and patterns used for quilt-making in the past 250 years. The collection also documents the work of specific quilt-makers and commemorates events in American history.
Learn more about the quilt collection and step behind the scenes with a video tour.
"National Quilt Collection - Introduction" showing 1 items.
- Esther Wheat's quilt is an example of a glazed wool fabric, not only used for bedding but also petticoats in the eighteenth century. The shiny surface of the quilt top was achieved by calendering, a process of applying heat and pressure with metal plates or rollers to a worsted fabric. In Esther's quilt the high sheen of the fabric enhanced the elaborate quilting of the large feathered heart and two pineapples surrounded by a scrolling vine with flowers. According to the donor, Esther Wheat Lee's great-great-granddaughter, the original plain weave yellow wool lining wore thin and was replaced by Esther's daughter, Olive Lee Doolittle. A thin layer of cotton fiber filling was added before the second lining of red twill weave cotton and wool was quilted to the original lining, but not through the quilt top.
- Esther Wheat made this quilted indigo-blue wool bed cover for her dower chest in the 1790s. Esther, a twin, was born in 1774 in Conway, Massachusetts. She married Benjamin Lee in 1799 and died at Canastota, New York in 1847. Esther's quilt was passed down through five generations of women before being donated to the Smithsonian in 1973.
- Currently not on view
- Date made
- Wheat, Esther
- ID Number
- catalog number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center