Eye on Elegance

2-IMG_1698When you think of Washington, D.C., a few things probably come to mind. Definitely government: the Capitol, White House, Cabinet offices, federal agencies, and embassies all reside here. Next, memorials: gorgeous, majestic, symbolic creations can be found all over the city that pay homage to major events and figures in American history. But after that, one can only think, MUSEUMS. D.C. is a major museum town – according to Wikipedia, there are 79 within city limits (only 16 of which are Smithsonian.) As of last week, we had only visited nineteen, a pathetic showing for eight years in residence. But last week’s excursion to the DAR Museum brought us up to an even twenty.

The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is a non-profit volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to “promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children.” Its museum at DAR headquarters, a stone’s throw from the White House, supports these goals “by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting the material culture and social history of pre-industrial America.” Their current exhibit, Eye on Elegance: Early Quilts of Maryland & Virginia was of special interest to my daughters and me because 1) my mother is a long-time professional quilter and has been recently teaching us to sew and quilt; 2) I am a native Virginian and feel part of its history; and 3) the shapes, patterns, symmetry, geometry, and design of quilts appeals and applies to each of us in the history, math, and art we’ve been studying.7-IMG_1729

Our small group was met in the lobby by Marilyn Sklar, the museum’s Education Curator, and led to an exquisite ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows on one side, and ornate fireplaces on each end. She reviewed with us basic museum etiquette, then split us into two smaller groups. Our contingent headed to the gallery, where we examined several quilts and discussed the shapes, patterns, and textiles used. Each quilt’s placard gave details of its design, its maker, and the materials used. Most astounding to me was the information of stitches per inch – eight, ten, twelve or more. Considering these were completely hand-pieced, appliquéd, and quilted, and most measured upwards of 10,000 sq. in., I was impressed. We also liked the touch-and-learn posts throughout the exhibit, that asked and answered technique questions applicable to the quilts on display.

4-IMG_1718After about twenty minutes, we left the gallery, passing the other group on our way out, and visited some of the period rooms in the museum. Here, we learned more about the homes the quilts were part of. Ms. Sklar explained the social role quilts and quilting held in 18th century America – that ladies would gather together for several days at a time around a quilt frame to help finish one for special occasions like weddings, babies, or even the coming of winter. Which sounded an awful lot like the annual retreats my Mom takes with her quilt group, socializing, eating, sleeping, building memories and friendships all around the common love of a timeless art. The children were also asked to say what they observed in the rooms that told them more about the lives of the people who lived there. We noticed books, mirrors, a cradle, toys, a basin, shoes, and other historical clues.

At the end of our visit, our groups came back together in a large room set up with tables and art supplies. There were quilt samples for the children to touch, including cotton and wool that would serve at the filling, or batting, in quilts. They were then given free reign to sit and create their own quilt designs using colored shapes and glue. Each named his or her design and got to take them home.

On the way out, I noticed a rack of self-guided tour programs one could pick up and use on a return visit; each offered a different focus for a total of four tours in addition to the one we’d just had: Quilts, Food & Drink, The 18th Century, and A Child’s Life.8-IMG_1738

A week later, we attended my Mom’s quilt meeting, as we do once or twice a year, to show-and-tell the projects the girls have recently completed. This time they had a doll quilt, and doll skirt, and an appliquéd dish towel to show. Their stitches were uneven, their designs…unique. And they were absolutely, positively…ELEGANT.

1-IMG_2003Quilts are just as practical and artistic as they ever were. Explore quilt designs, patterns, and simple projects with these links:

Quilt Explorers – This for-kids-only page of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum offers downloadable activities and worksheets for quilt design and study
Freedom Quilts – Learn how quilt patterns were used as secret codes in the Underground Railroad, and try your hand at the Flying Geese Challenge using transformational geometry
22 Quilting Projects for Children – Work together this summer to help your child create a throw pillow, picnic quilt, book bag, and more. You may just catch the quilting bug!
Quilt Museums Across the U.S. – Wondering if there is a quilt museum near you, or in the path of your summer vacation? From Tillamook, Oregon to Chiefland, Florida, here’s a list of quilt museums across the country
Geometric Design Art Project – One of my favorite art blogs gives instructions for a symmetry project
Old Game Boards and Modern Quilts – A fun post comparing historical game boards and quilt patterns – what kind of fun could your kids have with this?