For decades (probably centuries) we quilters have memorialized our hopes and dreams, our interests, our memories, and even our politics with needle and thread. Making quilts that document and commemorate key events in our lives is an important part of why we do what we do. We quilters know that – we know exactly how important it is. And it seems – so does our US Air Force.
Last month Jim and I took a “bucket list” road trip across the country doing a little genealogy research and visiting with recently discovered family along the way. That’s a long story for another day.
We spent some time visiting with my cousin in Ohio. She’s retired Air Force and her newly graduated son has just enlisted in the Air Force. While we were visiting – we had the opportunity to tour the National Museum of the Air Force located in Dayton, Ohio. Opened in 1823, this museum is the official National Museum of the Air Force. Exhibits document the history of flight over the past 100 years – as well as every major conflict or war. It’s a huge complex and in one long day – we were only able to see about half of the exhibits.
What does this have to do with quilting? Funny you should ask. While touring this amazing museum – I came across three quilts that I wanted to share with you.
Quilts that document our history – and help us remember
The first two are part of an exhibit called Prejudice & Memory: A Holocaust Exhibit. What makes this exhibit so interesting is that it contains artifacts, photographs, and memories of people who now live in the community of Dayton Ohio. It commemorates the impact of the Holocaust on this single community.
Two local schools contributed to this exhibit by engaging students in the making of a quilt. Both of these quilts are now hanging in the exhibit. I found myself looking at every single block created by a student and imagining what they were thinking as they created their block. I wonder how they felt when it was worked into one of the finished quilts.
Well done to the educators and students at Ankeny Junior High in Beavercreek, Ohio, and Morton Middle School in Vandalia, Ohio.
The Fabric of the Air Force
The third quilt I spent some time with at the museum is a commemorative quilt recognizing 50 years of the US Air Force (from 1947 – 1997). It’s a beautiful quilt – measuring 20 by 20 feet. It’s called The Fabric of the Air Force.
The story of how this quilt came to be – can be found on the exhibit signage. It might be a bit hard to read in the picture, so I’ve included it here.
“In January 1997, the 50th Anniversary Office received approval for the creation of a special anniversary commemorative quilt. Production of the project was funded through the Air Force Services sponsorship, and all 85 Air Force installations worldwide responded to participate in the project. Guidelines were established to ensure size, material and color were standard in each square. Dependents, volunteers and various individuals associated with the Air Force assisted in making the squares. Contests were held in some locations for the design and theme of the squares. A “Grand Quilting Bee” was held in San Antonio, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1997, where quilting students and volunteers could contribute the final touches of the quilt.
This distinctive quilt, “Fabric of the Air Force,” was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United States Air Force. It contains 100 hand-made squares from virtually every Air Force installation throughout the world. Each installation provided a 16-by-16-inch custom-made square reflecting its mission. The quilt center features a 36-inch Air Force seal and is surrounded by seals representing each major Air Force command.
The four corners of the quilt are dedicated to installations that have closed in the continental United States, Asian Theater, European Theater and other worldwide installations. The top border is embroidered with the Air Force core values and flanked by the 50th anniversary logo of stars and wings. Measuring 20-by-20-feet, the quilt contains more than 180 yards of Air Force blue material. Thread used to join the squares together was flown aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on its Sept. 22, 1997, mission.
Final assembly of parts and pieces took more than three months to complete. The hand-embroidered lettering took more than 500 hours. After its unveiling on Dec. 5, 1997, “Fabric of the Air Force” was placed on display at the Pentagon before its transfer to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.”
I love finding quilts “in the wild” in places it would never occur to me to look for them. That was certainly the case for our day at the National Museum of the US Air Force. I never would have thought on a day I was planning to spend looking at 100 years of aircraft that I would be captivated by three such interesting quilts. I hope you enjoyed seeing and learning a bit about them as much as I did.