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.
- Nancy Ward Butler made this quilt to commemorate the death of her granddaughter in 1842. Named for her grandmother, Nancy Adelaide Butler was born May 22 1840. She was the daughter of Calvin Butler (1818-1857), the quilt maker's son, and Mary A. Storey (1822-1909) whom he married in 1839. Nancy A. Butler died in February 1842 in Jamestown, N.Y. of scarlatina or scarlet fever, a serious and often fatal childhood disease at the time. In the nineteenth century, expressions of mourning were often part of the designs found on needlework and may have provided a way of working through grief as well as a memorial to a loved one.
- "NANCY A. BUTLER. DIED. FEB. 3 * 1842 * AGED 20 mo" is appliquéd on this quilt with roller and discharge printed blue and white cotton. The two sawtooth borders are pieced. The ground and lining are white plain woven cotton and the filling is cotton. The center section is quilted in parallel diagonal lines ½ to ¾ inches apart, in the border is a flowering vine; both quilted 6 stitches to the inch. A similar quilt in the McClurg Museum Chautauqua County Historical Society was possibly also made by Nancy. It memorializes her youngest son, James Butler who died of typhus at the age of 20 in 1844 and a granddaughter, Cynthia Smith Sage, who died in 1845 of consumption at the age of 23. Both are buried in the Laona Cemetery.
- Nancy Ward was born in 1779, daughter of Josiah Ward (1747/48-1825). Nancy Ward married James Butler (1780-1853) in 1802 in Buckland, Massachusetts. They settled in Chautauqua County, New York and raised their family, nine children, near Laona, New York. In 1855 Nancy Ward Butler was living in Jamestown, New York with her daughter Nancy Turner (1803-1889). They were both widowed. Nancy died in 1863.
- Nancy A. Butler Werdell, the donor, writes; "I am the namesake of the child, 'Nancy A. Butler,' memorialized on the quilt made by my ancestor [great-great grandmother], Nancy Ward Butler."
- She also commented about the quilt in Modern Maturity magazine in 1990; "Nancy was my great aunt! I inherited [the] quilt a number of years ago and donated it to the Smithsonian . I am so pleased that I have added to the folk history of our country in a small way. A quilt (or any prized treasure) preserved in the bottom of a trunk is a waste. Let's open our trunks and share our treasures." With the quilt, is a carefully printed, undated award; "Second Prize for the most Beautiful Quilt."
- Currently not on view
- Date made
- Butler, Nancy Ward
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center