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.
- Two quilted and stuffed blocks help identify this quilt; “M. L. Mc May 24th 1860” (Mary Larson McCrea) and “J Mc” (Rev. James McCrea, her husband). According to family information that accompanied the donation, a close inspection of the quilt even reveals the handprint of one of her children. Other designs in the quilting were inspired by the ferns and flowers gathered near her home.
- This pieced quilt artistically embodies two quilting techniques popular in mid-nineteenth-century America: raised and ground quilting. Sixteen 10-inch blocks, pieced of plain white and printed red cottons in the “Crown” pattern, are set diagonally with elaborately quilted and stuffed plain white blocks in floral patterns. The quilt has a 9-inch border edged by two pieced sawtooth bands, the inner one of the same fabric as the pieced blocks, the outer one composed of green printed cotton. It is quilted with feathered vines. The quilting is 10 stitches per inch, all a fine tribute to Mary McCrea’s needlework and design skills.
- Mary Lawson Ruth, daughter of Samuel and Margaret Ruth, was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, in 1835. The family, like many in that period, moved to Ohio where Mary received her education and taught school at Millwood (Quaker City), Ohio. An account of Quaker City, Ohio, describes the early school, founded in 1810, as a log cabin equipped with a few books and a supply of hickory and beech switches, although by the time Mary was teaching in the 1850s the school presumably had improved.
- On July 3rd, 1856, Mary married Rev. James McCrea. A white silk shawl with a white silk embroidered floral border that was worn by Mary McCrea at her wedding was included in the donation. They had seven children.
- She was profiled in family information as an “accomplished needlewoman . . . proven by the exquisite stitchery in the quilt and infants’ clothing.” A baptismal gown, also part of the donation, was made for her first child, Samuel P. McCrea, born in 1857, and subsequently worn by all her children. “She made all of the clothing worn by her family including her husband [his clothes].” James McCrea was both a teacher and ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church. Mary died in December 1880 and is buried in the Murray, Indiana, cemetery. The “Crown” quilt as well as jewelry, infant apparel, and family portraits, were included in the bequest to the Smithsonian by Miss Mary E. McCrea in 1941.
- Currently not on view
- date made
- McCrea, Mary Lawson Ruth
- ID Number
- accession number
- catalog number
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center