Martha Washington’s Children’s Games

Yesterday I was adding a final border to my Games with Martha quilt. I haven’t told you about this yet, other than a passing mention.

Games with Martha is part of a larger project I’m working on. It’s an interpretation of a quilt top made by Martha Washington, around 220 years ago. Martha Washington was a remarkable and complicated woman. As our first First Lady, she served at Valley Forge with her husband George, during the Revolutionary War. She was considered an adept manager of the plantations of both her first husband and Washington, bargaining with Europeans on tobacco prices.

She was a slave owner, having inherited the use of more than 80 slaves when her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, died. The slaves were, in essence, held in trust for her use during her lifetime. When she died, ownership of these “dower” slaves reverted back to members of Custis’s family. George Washington also owned slaves. In his will Washington directed that they be freed upon Martha’s death. After he died, she freed them soon after.

And she was a quilter. She is known to have started three quilts, finished one, finished the top of another, and started the top of a third. It is possible, of course, that she was not the quilter, but a slave was. However, since the third top was finished by a younger relative after her death, it seems likely that it was her own handwork, rather than something she directed a slave to do. All three quilts are now held at Mount Vernon in Virginia.

One of the quilt tops is called “Children’s Games” because of a toile used in large corner blocks depicting children at play. I’m creating an interpretation of the top. Note, there is a difference between an interpretation and a reproduction. A reproduction is a copy intending to appear essentially the same as the original. An interpretation is a representation of the original, but without intention to look exactly alike.

Here is a photo in George Washington’s Mount Vernon Facebook page showing a woman who is making a reproduction of Children’s Games, along with the original flat on the table.

While her reproduction is, I believe, imitating the scale (larger than eight feet) and creating or finding copies of the fabrics, my version is not that. Again, it’s an interpretation. It will finish at approximately seven feet (about 84″) and uses fabrics currently available and from my stash.

I have finished the top. However, it is BIG and I didn’t get a photo of it. I did get a picture prior to adding the last border yesterday. Here’s what it looked like, and a comparison to the original. Mine is on the right of the screen capture.

My final border is technically a double pink, but is printed in pink, red, and white with small red rosettes in the stripe. It will look substantially like hers. I mitered the border corners and messed that up, cutting two of the strips too short. (If you look at Washington’s mitered corners, they’re not great, either.) However, all’s well that ends well and it looks just fine now.

I’ll tell you more about my mitering adventure, the design of the quilt, and some other things soon. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

6 thoughts on “Martha Washington’s Children’s Games

  1. Elizabeth E.

    I saw one of Martha Washington’s quilts when our local quilt chapter (Mt. Vernon chapter of Quilters Unlimited of Virginia) took a tour of the quilts held at the Museum of American History (Smithsonian). We didn’t see this quilt, so I loved hearing the story about it. I love your reproduction of it–wow, so big!! I’ve seen more than a few quilts I would love to make a reproduction of; as usual, you are leading us all with inspiration. Thanks for this post.

  2. Kerry

    Thank you Melanie. You are the queen of the medallion quilts methinks! That is a super version of the quilt and, by using your own stash, it doesn’t look much different – those corner blocks with the design on Martha’s look too out of place while yours tones in and more relaxing on the eye – in my opinion. Lovely job. xx

  3. Jim R

    It has been interesting to watch how you’ve moved through the process. I look forward to seeing the finished work lighted on the wall for a photograph. I hope it fits that space. 🙂

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      It’s about 84 inches. Pretty sure we’ve done pix that big before. If not, we can hang it outside on one of the racks and get a good photo.
      And also Winterset…

  4. katechiconi

    This is going to be some story; I’m looking forward to settling back to read and enjoy it! While the original and making an interpretation of it are totally not my thing, it always fascinates me to hear of the concentration, effort and dedication required to carry out such a project. Martha would, I’m sure, be proud.


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