The museum is open Fridays through Tuesdays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free timed-entry passes are required. Review our latest visitor safety guidelines.

1840 - 1860 Clarissa Penn's Silk Quilt

1840 - 1860 Clarissa Penn's Silk Quilt

Usage conditions apply
Attached to this quilt when it was donated in 1975 was a note: “Made of Wedding and ‘Second Day’ dresses belonging to Mrs. William Penn (nee Clarissa Tarleton,) of St. Mary’s County, Maryland. (Circa 1800).” While many of the fabrics in this quilt are from the mid-19th century, the pale yellow and pearl-grey silks are possibly of an earlier date. They show wear and darning. Clara Tarlton married William Penn on March 7, 1809, in St Mary’s County, Maryland. Perhaps years later she fashioned this quilt using some of her wedding trousseau.
The pale yellow eight-pointed star in the center is set off by a purple ground and peach border. Seven more colorful borders frame the center. Meandering and feathered vines, bowknots, and flowers, as well as diagonal grid and parallel line patterns used for the quilting, further delineate the borders. The quilt has been relined with glazed cotton, replacing the original lining of grey-green wool. The quilting was originally done in yellow and ivory silk. Later quilting utilized various colors of silk thread, and was quilted through both linings. The adept use of color enhances the geometric balance of this quilt which preserved the fabric mementoes of a special event.
While it is not known that Clarissa was a Quaker, the quilt is typical of Quaker silk quilts of the early 19th century. These were made of solid colors, often expensive silks and/or remnants of wedding dresses. Quilts such as Clarissa’s were treasured as decorative and commemorative items and subsequently well cared for.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Physical Description
fabric, silk, satin, ribbon, cotton (overall material)
thread, silk, cotton (overall material)
filling, cotton (overall material)
overall: 88 in x 78 in; 223 cm x 197 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Virginia Manning Lanahan
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Textiles
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object