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September 2, 2008

Fund supports new exhibition at CW's DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum

A new exhibition in Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum showcases 200 years of pre-1800 quilted textiles from America, Great Britain and elsewhere around the world, including the Mediterranean and India. “Quilted Fashions” opens Saturday, Oct. 18 and includes exquisite examples from Colonial Williamsburg’s permanent collection, including bed coverings, wearing apparel and accessories.

The process of quilting textiles to increase their warmth, comfort and luxury has been around for thousands of years. Seventeenth- and 18th-century quilting decorated some of the most precious artifacts—stomachers and petticoats worn with women’s costly gowns, men’s elaborate waistcoats and counterpanes on the finest of beds.

“For some people today, quilts are striking art objects hung on the wall,” said Linda Baumgarten, Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of textiles and costumes. “To many, though, quilts speak of family, friends, warmth and tradition. Perhaps it’s the concept of creating beauty from small bits and pieces, giving one’s self through a special handmade gift or connecting with a past ancestor through her surviving quilt.”

In addition to being records of technique, design and trade, quilts tell the story of anonymous people of the past. Professional women and men—many who never signed their work or left records of their lives—made quilts of exquisite workmanship for sale. Despite the availability of ready-made quilts, many women and girls also made quilts in their homes, many times assisted by friends who joined in the work at social gatherings known as “quiltings.”

One of the rarest items seen in the exhibition is a pieced bed quilt fragment made in the early 18th century. The anonymous British maker meticulously cut paper templates from old books and letters, some dating back to 1660. She then used the templates to cut and piece silk scraps, carefully basting the silks to the paper shapes, which still remain inside the quilt. She further added appliquéd silk motifs taken from 17th-century pattern books in the form of human figures and animals.

Another stunning item in the exhibition is a quilted petticoat, or skirt, made by a Connecticut woman in 1750. Abigail Trowbridg not only signed her name and the date in the thousands of hand quilting stitches, she also embellished her petticoat with images of animals, birds, scrolling flowers, and a coat of arms. Computer-drawn images of the petticoat and many of the other quilted objects enhance the exhibition by allowing visitors to study in detail the intricate—but often unseen—quilting patterns.

The “Quilted Fashions” exhibition is made possible by a gift from the Turner-Gilliland Family Fund of Menlo Park, Calif., and reflects Mary Gilliland’s interest in textiles. She and her husband, Clinton, have supported Colonial Williamsburg through restricted and unrestricted gifts since 1980.

“Quilted Fashions” will be on view in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum through Sept. 6, 2010. Entrance to the Museums of Colonial Williamsburg is through the Public Hospital of 1773 on Francis St. between Nassau and South Henry Sts. Operating hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Admission is by Colonial Williamsburg admission, a separate Museums admission ticket, Annual Museums Pass or Good Neighbor Card.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution for its guests, it also invites them to interact with history. “Revolutionary City®,” a dramatic live street theater presentation, is a 2008 Rand McNally Best-of-the-Road™ Editor’s Pick. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281