One of the most requested pieces in our collection is the Keckley Quilt. This beautiful quilt was made in between 1862-1880 out of silks from dress fabric. The quilt is attributed to Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a dressmaker who worked for Mary Todd Lincoln. Keckley was born a slave but she bought her freedom using money she earned as a dressmaker. She moved to Washington, DC where she served as a dressmaker to prominent women including not only Mrs. Lincoln but also the wives of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Assuming that the dress was made out of scraps of dress fabric from the pieces she had sewn for her clients, it is possible that the dress includes materials that went into Mrs. Lincoln’s dresses.
This quilt is extremely fragile because many of the pieces of silk have shattered. The beautiful, dimensional embroidery contributes to the quilt’s beauty but also adds to the inherent fragility of the piece. As a result of the piece’s fragile condition and large size, we are unable to bring the piece out for visitors who frequently request to see it. The quilt is also rarely brought out for exhibition, so we wanted to make sure and get the word out that the piece is now on view, albeit in Indianapolis at the Indiana State Museum (https://www.indianamuseum.org/) The quilt is included in an exhibition of quilts related to Lincoln entitled “Lincoln in Quilts: Log Cabins, Flags and Roses” which is on exhibition through February 19, 2018.
Sara Hume, Curator/Associate Professor