The nimbler you are with a thimble, the more you are likely to appreciate the Textile Museum. Andean knitted caps, Oriental carpets from China's Qing Empire, splendid works by Arts and Crafts Movement leader William Morris and one of the world's foremost collections of Islamic textiles have all been exhibited at this elegant little museum.
Part of the quiet back streets of Embassy Row in Northwest Washington, the Textile Museum is housed in the former home of George Hewitt Myers and his wife, Louise Chase Myers. The couple founded the museum in 1925. An heir to the Bristol-Myers fortune, George Myers once said, "The best way to learn something is to buy something. After living with it one either likes it better or not so well." True to his word, Myers began buying Oriental carpets for his dorm room while studying forestry at Yale in the 1890s. By the time he died, he owned more than 500 rugs and 3,500 other works of fiber art and was widely known as a tireless promoter of textiles.
George Myers's connoisseurship can seem rather esoteric to the casual visitor, but the museum he created is making an effort to become more accessible. Its Textile Learning Center will answer your questions about how textiles are made, help you understand the sometimes arcane vocabulary threaded throughout the museum's exhibit text, and awaken you to the cultural lessons to be had from looking closely at the wool sweaters your grandmother knitted years ago.
There are regular educational programs for "textile enthusiasts" and occasional films on the history of different textile traditions. In addition to the museum's big exhibits, the Collections Gallery features a rotating display of textiles from the museum's permanent collection. The museum even has special days when visitors can bring in their family heirlooms for inspection by museum curators.
The Myers' house, just a couple of blocks from Dupont Circle, was designed by John Russell Pope, architect of the West Wing of the National Galley of Art. Out back there is a landscaped garden with grand magnolia trees and a small fountain. The garden doesn't get as much care as do the textiles inside, but it offers another attraction: Hop a small dividing wall and you'll land in the back yard of the Woodrow Wilson House next door. Then again, you could go around front and use the entrance to the retirement home of the 28th president of the United States. It is also a museum open to the public.
-- William Yardley
Youngsters may get a kick out of seeing carpets on the wall rather than on the floor, and they may enjoy the vibrant colors and patterns of the fabrics on display. Exhibits draw from a collection of more than 15,500 items, from scraps of ancient cloth to 20th Century Latin American textiles. The exhibits change often and may not always appeal to children. (Kids seem to especially like Oriental rugs and colorful molas.) The second-floor Learning Center does a good job of introducing the concepts of design and construction to young visitors. To explore the notion of pattern, for example, they can rearrange colorful magnets and use stamp pads to ink different designs. There's a loom for trying, magnifying glasses for inspecting fibers and a collection of plants that lend their dyes to rugs and garments.
-- John Kelly and Craig Stoltz
There's no food service either, though you can picnic in the garden out back.
While we have noted wheelchair access, you should call ahead.