Sunday, 21 March 2010

Quilts at the V&A

Wow. I’ve just spent a few days in London, child-free, primarily to visit the V&A Quilt exhibition. It was well worth the effort involved in arranging childcare (six plus sets of people helped out – thank you!). I nearly said I had been to the V&A’s quilt show, but that doesn’t quite fit the description. This was a proper exhibition, with exhibition designers making the quilts look as good as possible. There were no quilts at angles so they could all be fitted in, on temporary wooden bars. And the quilts benefited from it. One clever feature was the use of ‘windows’ in some of the walls so you got the juxtaposition of one quilt with another. This worked best at the entrance, where you could see Jo Budd’s specially commissioned work peeping through, contrasting with the set of bed hangings from the 18th century.
One famous quilt, known as the Elisabeth Chapman coverlet, had a space cut in the wall behind it so you could see the papers still tacked in place on the back. These papers, originally thought to be love letters are apparently more mundane: pieces cut from children’s jotters, newspapers, accounts books and receipts. The quilt cannot have been finished as the papers had not been removed, but this is what makes it valuable to historians: little snatches of every day early 19th century lives.
Generally I prefer contemporary work to historical quilts, but the history here has been carefully researched and presented with the quilts, adding to the viewing. The workmanship of the older quilts was also outstanding, but that may be why these pieces have survived and other lesser ones have not. It would be unfair to compare the workmanship of the older quilts to the modern ones as we live in different times and although Jo Budd may not use as many pieces or as many stitches to the inch as an 18th century quilter, I suspect there is just as much work that went into her large artworks.

Viewing the exhibition with others from the Popular Patchwork team and other members of the press also made the experience more interesting as we all picked up on different highlights and spotted different qualities in the quilts, such as the Joanna Southcott coverlet including embroidery in hair.

I have loads more to say, which I’m going to spread over a number of posts to keep things relatively short. But in the meantime, I strongly urge you to get a ticket to the exhibition if you can. If a visit is not possible, here are some images from the exhibition in consolation of a bed quilt from 1690-1750 and Janey Forgan's Liberty Jack, winner at the Festival of Quilts in 2008.

1 comment:

maggi said...

Thanks for the review. It looks like an exhibition worth visiting, which hopefully I shall be able to do soon.

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