Crafted in 1876 by Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, this embroidered quilt is more than mere folk-art object or household item: it was actually used by Harding Baker as a visual aid for astronomy lectures she'd give in her community. It's now part of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

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From the museum's website — the only place to see the quilt at present, since it's not currently on display — here's more about the science-minded artisan (pictured at left) who created this remarkable object:

The maker, Sarah Ellen Harding, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1847, and married Marion Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, on October 10, 1867. They lived in Cedar County until 1878, and then moved to Johnson County, where Marion had a general merchandise business in Lone Tree. Ellen had seven children before she died of tuberculosis in the spring of 1886.

The design of Ellen's striking and unusual quilt resembles illustrations in astronomy books of the period. Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the nineteenth century and was sometimes even fostered in their education.

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Detail shot:

H/t Mika McKinnon

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