Everyone loves snuggling up under a warm, cosy quilt and knows that vintage quilts were handmade with carefully collected fabric scraps. Did you also know that quilts have also been created for political protests, made by men, quilted from illegal fabric and have been used to preach religion? You’ll be surprised what you discover at this exhibition.
I love textiles and have been very excited about seeing this exhibition ever since I heard about it last year. I will confess to a little gleeful skipping on my way to the preview. The lady who entered the exhibition in front of me gasped â€œOh my goodness!â€ in excitement as she walked through the door!
One of the main themes of the exhibition is how quilts tell stories. Some have beautifully embroidered pictures of people, animals and events. I loved the Alphabet of Love and Courtship quilt from 1875-85 which features embroidered pictures of women being courted by men with luxuriant squirrel-sized moustaches – swoon!
The materials can tell us about the life of the quilter; one quilt is made from scraps of uniform material collected by a 19th-century military tailor. An unfinished quilt still has the tacking and paper inside (cut from the family’s household bills and papers) and has been displayed so you can see the back and the tiny stitches.
The detailed quilt by Fine Cell Work (prisoners in the UK who have learned to sew to a very high standard) tells the story of life behind bars. Another quilt features a portrait of Caroline of Brunswick in the centre, demonstrating the quilter’s political allegiance with her cause.
Quilts were often made by Victorians to either preach virtue or as an activity which would distract the weak-willed from the lure of taverns. One enormous quilt certainly would have kept the quilter from disreputable pursuits as it’s made up of thousands of tiny squares!
The exhibition feels quite traditional, even the contemporary pieces by artists like Tracey Emin reference fairly standard techniques and concepts. I fell in love with all the vintage quilts but I’ve seen contemporary quilts which make much more challenging use of the techniques, skills and material choices of quilters at other textile exhibitions.
Quilts 1700-2010 more than lived up to my expectations and I’ll definitely be going back for a second look. You should book your tickets now because it’s selling out fast!
Quilts 1700-2010 is at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 20 March 2010 to 4 July 2010. www.vam.ac.uk