Posted by admin On May - 25 - 2006   ShareThis

After the Book Expo on Saturday, I and‚ my posse (Victor, my husband Jon, and our friends Charlene and Rich) went to the Smithsonian’s National Museums of American and Natural History. I didn’t take any pictures at the Natural History Museum, because, while the dead animals were cute and all, it just wasn’t the same as a monkey petting a cat. I enjoyed it, but just didn’t feel compelled to photograph anything.

But the American History Museum was another story.‚ (click the pictures to embiggen them)‚ That place is right up my alley. It’s a hodge-podge collection of stuff that is vaguely related, but only by its coolness. It’s like the eBay of my dreams. Forget the chintzy gift shops, I want those Ruby Slippers!

Apparently, there were many pairs of these sequined lovelies. Here we see Judy’s boogie shoes. They had thick layers of felt on the bottom to muffle the sounds of her following the yellow brick road. How you could hear anything above the manic din of deliriously merry munchkins, I have no idea.

And I’ll get them, my pretties . . . . And their little otters, too. eeeee hee hee hee heeeeeeeee

Here are Emmet and Ma Otter from Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.‚  I defy you to sit still during the song about getting’ a “mess o’ mama’s barbeque”. In fact, I defy you not to head for the utensil drawer in the kitchen, teach yourself to play the spoons, and then rewind that song over and over and over. Seriously. Emmet rocks the house.

Now, as a knitter and tend to look at things through a woolly lens. And so, I tend to focus on woolly things. Observe.

It’s a life-sized diorama of days gone by. Those long-ago times when people actually had to spin their own yarn. Can you believe it? Crazy, man. Look at this poor soul, forced to labor at the wheel for hours on end. Imagine being surrounded by all manner of combs and niddy-noddies. And look to the left, these poor saps had to actually dye their own yarn, too! And this is all before they had to knit the stuff. How did people manage? And how do I get the job as that mannequin, hanging around all day, spinning in a night dress?

The yarn at the left was actually labeled with the material used to dye it.‚ Among them were‚ rhododendron, goldenrod, onion skin, lichens, mulberry, marigold, and black walnut. As luck would have it, we have black walnut trees in our yard. Can we say “summer project”?

Nearby was a case of various handmade textiles, including some knitted items:

These mittens were amazing. The blue ones have a small write-up on the Smithsonian website. The fuzzy pair at the bottom are actually men’s mittens. I like that there exists a pair of fuzzy Christmas tree mittens for a man. They were in good shape, barely worn. As though they’d been hidden in the bottom of a drawer. I’d venture to say that men haven’t changed much since the 1800’s.


You know, we all spoil each other by allowing fellow knitters to paw at our handknits. It’s‚ actually a form of‚ greeting in the knitting community. And yet all this stuff was behing glass. I need to see inside those mittens!! Why don’t they undestand that?

And here’s some gorgeous lace made from a spool of thread. Thread, people. I took solace in the fact that it wasn’t finished. In fact, I have decided that it was unearthed from a small box buried in the basement of an abandoned house, placed there by it’s creator in an effort to regain her sanity and the trust of her family, whom she had been lashing out at since she cast on this godforsaken project. But man, is it pretty.


Also in the textile room was this unbelievable quilt. It was part of a quilt conservation project. Just look at the detail. I’m telling you, somewhere in my brain lurks a rabid quilter who spends forever with crazy detailed stitching. Things like this only serve to feed the beast within.


I finally tore myself away from the textile room and ran smack dab into this! Recognize it? It’s ok, I didn’t.

It’s one of Mr. Rogers’ sweaters!!! Awwwww. I just wanted to hug it. I bet it still smells like his aftershave.

And right next to it was this. It’s an outfit from the Carol Burnett show, it’s the cleaning lady who swept up at the end! You can see her wearing it if you scroll down on this page to the photo gallery. I remember watching her show when I was little and always thought she seemed like such a great lady. I feel like I want to make her cleaning lady a new sweater. She deserves it.


And the last knitted item was seen on a rat. Rizzo the Rat, if I’m not mistaken. He’s from “Muppets Take Manhattan” he’s riding an egg beater. Nearby is the Swedish Chef, but he totally freaks me out, so I didn’t take a picture of him. Real hands + Muppet body = Debbie cowering in fear.


There was also an exhibit on Celia Cruz. I never knew a thing about her until she recently died. Yowza. She was a total firecracker! All you need to know about her is that she had the ass-kickingest footwear this side of anywhere. But to learn more, check out the link to see parts of the actual Smithsonian exhibit. She was a legend in Cuban music and was in the biz from the late 1940’s until she died in 2003. She reminded me a little of Elvis in that as she got older, her look got . . . well . . . bolder. Louder. Sequinier. But she had the big personality to actually pull it off.


And then, at one point, angels sang. We were faced with a wall that changed the lives of countless women. It reminded me that I need to make an appointment.

As it turns out, the Pill used to come in really pretty cases. I had a sliding blue case ages ago, but over the past few years, they were just on a card and you pop them out the back. I want a pretty round case that looks like a compact! Or a rectangular one with a cameo on it! Someone needs to make some with rhinestones.

And what was my most very favorite thing in the museum? Here it is:

It’s Julia Child’s kitchen! How cool is that? (Definitely check out that link.)‚ What an amazing woman. There was a quote on the wall about starting cooking school so “late” in life:

“The whole experience was an opening up of the soul and spirit for me¢â‚¬¦I was hooked, and for life, as it has turned out…I was a late bloomer who was still growing up. I didn’t get started on life until I was about thirty-two, which was good because I was old enough to appreciate it. I had it all ahead of me.”

This resonates so strongly with me that it almost makes me want to cry. Not in a sad way or anything, but you know how sometimes, something rings so true for you that it fills you up? It’s almost the answer to a question about myself that I didn’t know how to ask. It just makes me feel solid and optimistic and excited about things to come. Yay, Julia!

And, although I don’t believe she was a knitter, she was definitely one of us. This was written by a large array of kitchen gadgets:

“Julia is a self-confessed knife freak, a frying pan freak, and most of all, a gadget freak. From the time she fell in love with food and cooking, she began to acquire some of the hundreds of implements she used over the years, many of them in the kitchen collected by the Smithsonian.”

AND, she had all kinds of cat junk everywhere. Little plaques, refrigerator magnets, even a painting on one of the cabinets. I like to think that more than on pot of Beef Bourguignon went onto the table with a few stray cat hairs in it. Heh

And in closing, I would like to thank the Smithsonian for honoring me by naming this lovely mineral thingy after me. I am humbled.


21 Responses

  1. The pictures are great! I love the Smithsonian museums. I was in DC recently for a conference and every moment not spent at something I had to attend, I was at the museums instead! The Smithsonian magazine is really great too. It is like a quick trip to the museums in magazine format.

  2. Amy says:

    I can’t believe I live here and have never been to the American Kitch, I mean History Museum–ok, I’ve added it to our agend a for the weeken–thanks for the blow-by-blow!

  3. Carole says:

    What fabulous photos! I’m jealous and can’t wait to go there myself. Thanks for the guided tour of the important stuff!

  4. Mary says:

    OK, I haven’t been down to the museums in a while. I didn’t know there was a Celia Cruz exhibit. I saw her perform for free in Baltimore a few years ago and it was fabulous. She was really larger than life. It’s a long weekend–maybe I can convince my husband to go.

  5. Shiv says:

    You have just inspired me to go to the museum – maybe this weekend even!
    My pill – OrthoTricycen Lo – comes in a round compact and you can order fancy ones – maybe even one with rhinestones!!!

  6. Heather says:

    No way, I didn’t know that Mr. Rogers had CABLED sweaters! Wow, that changes things almost as much as when I discovered that he was a communist. I have a place for him in my heart right next to Helen Keller, whose communist leanings have been edited out of all her American-written biographies and text-book mentions.

    Also, back on the Mr. Rogers tip, several issues back in Interweave (I think? or perhaps Vogue) there was a bit about an art installation project with intarsia cardigans with Mr Rogers’ portrait in pink, yellow and orange on 3 maroon sweaters.

  7. Martha says:

    Boy, I miss the Smithsonian History museum. I used to love that place growing up. Thanks for the tour!

  8. What a great post! Thanks for sharing that. I recognized Mr. Rogers’s sweater right away!

  9. maryse says:

    i love that museum. mr. bag and i went there last summer on the hottest friggin’ day of the year (i posted about my trip, but not as wonderfully as you). and i have pictures of the wheels, and archie and edith’s chairs, and oscar the grouch. and of course i saw julia’s kitchen. i like that she was a late bloomer too. gives me hope.

  10. Robyn says:

    check out the ?summer 2005? issue of Gastronomica, which is completetly devoted to Julia Child…it will make you fall in love with her, if you haven’t already.

  11. inky says:


    Your writing rocks. Big time.

  12. Elena says:

    How?! How did I miss Ma and Emmett the last time I was there?! That would’ve been so much cooler than Fonzie’s stupid jacket.

    “Golly, do you have mashed potatoes?”

  13. elisa says:

    Man, I really need to get to DC again – I would love to see Julia’s kitchen.

    Thanks for the mini-tour! :)

  14. Shelley says:

    Very very cool. I remember reading that each year Mr. Roger’s mom would knit everyone in the family a sweater. He always asked for the same one.

  15. anne marie in philly says:

    like julia child, I began seriously knitting late in life – age 47! but I can appreciate the art form now in ways I could not when my grandmother first taught me (age 13). I even received my CYCA Knitting Teacher Certification in 2004, and have been teaching at a local community center.

    the lesson – NEVER say you are TOO OLD to do anything!

  16. Abigale says:

    The Swedish Chef *always* creeped me out as well!! I thought I was the onlly one! Real hands – on a muppet… shiver.

    Have fun!


  17. LPC says:

    If you watch the French Chef DVD’s, you’ll see Julia truss a chicken using a knitting needle. I’m hoping that’s not the only reason she had them in her house.

  18. GD says:


  19. ru says:

    I have actually tried the project of dyeing yarn with black walnuts after noticing how definitively they dyed my children’s hands. It was successful in that it made a fairly dark, permanent dye. Unsuccessful in that I really hated the poopy brown color.

  20. karrie says:

    Don’t even get me started on how much muppet feet freak me out. and there are way too many of them in Emmet’s Christmas show. I am freaked out just thinking about it.

  21. Karen C. says:

    I found your site while searching for images of characters from emmet otter’s jug-band christmas. Great content. Oh, and you can order an image of the inside of the kick-butt poem mittens from the smithsonian…check out this curator answer:

    Do you have a pattern for these?
    —Laura, Michigan
    Curator Response:

    Although we have photographs of the mittens, including a view of one of them turned inside out, we don’t have a pattern for them. The black-and-white photos showing both sides of the mittens are Negative Numbers 79-7965 and 79-7966. The mitten turned inside out is Negative Number 80-3786. Information on ordering images is here.

    If you make a pattern, please post!

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