Tracey Emin, To Meet My Past, 2002, The Saatchi Gallery, London.

300 Years of British Quilt Making from Royal Decoration to YBAs

Ann West (detail), 1820, © V&A Images.

Unknown makerm Bishops Court quilt, 1690-1700, © V&A Images.

Elizabeth Chapman (detail) 1829, © V&A Images, Richard Davis.

Janey Forgan, Liberty Jack, 2008, © V&A Images.

 

Victoria & Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
+44 (0)20 7942 2000
London
Quilts 1700-2010
March 20-July 4, 2010

The first exhibition of its kind in the UK, Quilts 1700-2010, exploring 300 years of British quilt making, shows an extraordinary variety of quilts from the highly decorative and opulent such as the Bishop’s Court Quilt, once believed to have been created by a Duke for a visit from King Charles II in 1670, to modest homemade bed covers, all testifying to the creativity and imagination of the makers. Where appropriate the quilts are displayed on bed mounts, including a unique set of 1730 patchwork bed hangings, enabling visitors to experience how they were originally designed to be seen.

The exhibition shows more than 65 quilts, from a cot cover made in the 1690s to recent examples by leading contemporary artists, including Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry as well as special commissions by Sue Stockwell, Caren Garfen and Jo Budd.

Each quilt has a singular story to tell and the curators have unravelled some of the complex narratives and personal stories handed down with each intricately pieced quilt. The 1829 Elisabeth Chapman coverlet, commemorating Wellington’s Victory at Vittoria, was believed to be a marriage token. However, the curators have discovered that the love poem on the coverlet is actually an epitaph connected to a macabre Georgian tale. The exhibition ends with Tracey Emin’s To Meet My Past (2002), a confessional installation which follows the tradition of quilts used as vessels for personal and collective memories.

Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, said: “The exhibition has provided a wonderful opportunity to research and restore our own collection. We have discovered some fascinating material which adds a new dimension to our understanding of the personal and social histories behind these quilts.”

Alongside the V&A’s quilts are loans from museums around the country including Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Glasgow Museums. On loan from the National Gallery of Australia for the very first time is the Rajah quilt, made in 1841 by women convicts aboard the HMS Rajah as they were being transported to Van Dieman’s Land (present day Tasmania). There are also prints
and paintings, including one by Hogarth, as well as additional contextual material such as personal diaries and keepsakes relating to the quilts and their makers.

The exhibition is presented chronologically and thematically. The contemporary works are woven throughout following the themes: The Domestic Landscape; Private Thoughts, Public Debates; Virtue and Virtuosity; Making A Living and Acts of Remembrance. Together the quilts document love, marriage, births, deaths, periods of intense patriotic fervour, regional and national identity and developments in taste and fashion.

In several cases, historic events and personal narratives are intriguingly woven together. A highlight is a cotton coverlet depicting George III Reviewing the Troops (1803-05) where the maker, an unknown young woman, has inserted her portrait into several of the military scenes. A silk and ribbon cot quilt from Deal Castle (1690-1720) is shown for the first time with portraits of the children who slept beneath it and the maker’s diary written in code, which reveals political intrigue and family life in the 18th century.

One of the aims of the exhibition is to inspire a new generation to take up their needles and explore the idea of patchwork and quilt making. There has been a renewed interest in recent years in learning the craft and the V&A hosts a series of workshops and lectures during the exhibition giving viewers a chance to make their own quilts.

Unknown maker, George III reviewing the troops (detail), 1803-1805, © V&A Images.

 

Natasha Kerr, At the End of the Day, 2007, © V&A Images.