Lovingly hand made, full of stories and life celebrations documented with tender stitches, Quilts, the exhibition at the V&A is a really wide source of interesting culture studies. As I’m working on a new range of textiles, going to see this was great timing in terms of getting me really fired up!
The amount of beautiful printed fabrics dating way back acts like a documentary of the fashions and fabrics available at the time. It’s fascinating to see how fabrics were saved and stored, perhaps expectantly watched whilst being worn in the hope that one day that they (the quilters) could get their scissors and needles out to fashion the item into a bedcover. In fact, I could have studied the prints in each of the early quilts for hours, so amazing is the amount of pattern and colour that was used, some of the pieces were made up of 15 or 20 different prints. And even though they have aged, you can sort of feel the crispness of the prints on the cottons.
Bishops Court quilt, Unknown, 1690-1700. Museum no. T.201-1984
Calico and cotton lawns, pale blues with brown, typical 1800s seaweed designs mixed with tiny dotted paisleys, yellows with soft purple circles… I was enthralled by the intricacy, effort and detail, by the tiny circles and smallness of some of the patches but then patience isn’t my virtue!
It was interesting to see the reverse of a quilt so you could see the newspaper pattern pieces which are still in place, you can even make out some of the old newsprint.
I have always admired Sonia Delaunay’s quilt she made for her son Charles, it’s such a personal celebration for a child’s birth that can handed down the generations.
Sonia Delaunay baby quilt for Charles, 'Couverture' 1911
This is what I love most about quilts; they are such an emotional and human product, so non-commercial and genuine in their purpose.
The early historical pieces from the 1700 and 1800s and the war quilts were particular fascinating but the exhibition also includes work by contemporary artists including Nina Saunders and Grayson Perry’s incredible ‘Right to Life’. They show how what is such a homely, cosy product can be appropriated for political and sociological messages; the AIDS Memorial quilt is perhaps the best-known example of this.
Grant Heap, Garden Chairs, Radiant Dark 2010: Assets & Values, Exhibition Toronto
Tracey Emin’s bed with quilts and embroidered cushions seems to relate to the comfort, security and warmth that bedcovers and quilts bring, again using specially saved fabrics and compiling them together with stitch and verse. Canadian artist Grant Heaps’ work isn’t included in this exhibition but naturally, the show reminded me of him, I love his quilts and the ‘quilt chairs’ are bang on the hand-made/folklore/crafted trend.
The exhibition also features quilts that were made for use in hospitals with biblical verse stitched in for the patients to read. I could see this idea being used today’s digital world. Wouldn’t it be great to read your book actually in the bedcovers, or to read little relaxing messages before you sleep?
The current trend and popularity for all things handmade and homemade, especially knitting, sewing, ceramics and so on, fits very well with the quilts from the past. In North America quilting is a much celebrated and loved craft (as proven by the sheer number of exhibitions devoted to the subject and huge number of active quilters). I’m half expecting quilting groups to spring up like those pub knitting groups – social gatherings that are such cooperative experiences.
There’s a lot to see and the exhibition is so beautifully and thoughtfully organised so I’m definitely going to go back to see this again.
Posted in craft, handmade, interior design, review, textiles