Monday, 12 September 2016

Textile Treasures from the Quilters' Guild

Detail of a 1930s quilt made with an astounding array of dress making fabrics
As part of the C&G Diploma in Patchwork and Quilting, you have to write an illustrated study of British Quilt History.  To help make this come alive, I've borrowed a suitcase collection of historical quilts, called Textile Treasures from the Quilters' Guild to share with my students.  It is amazing what will fit into one suitcase.  It was even more exciting when I was finally able to open it - the case was padlocked and I didn't have the combination to start with!
Visitors to the Open Day
As it was here, I thought it would nice to share with others who may be interested and so I had an Open Day last Friday.  I had no idea how many people, if any, would turn up, but in the end, even in the rotten weather, we had a lovely crowd of about 60 across the day.  The age range was 17-90 which was fantastic, most of us fascinated by textiles, with a few reluctant partners dragged along.
More visitors - isn't my studio really tidy for once!
I've now seen this collection three times and it is amazing the different insights each group has about the quilts.  It can be difficult when you first look at an old quilt to appreciate it and that is part of the beauty of having this collection here - understanding how to look at these historical textiles and learning what we can from them.
Here are some quick points we have learned:

  • some of the ugliest quilts have the most brilliant stories behind them, like this Canadian Red Cross Quilt, which was given to a family who had been bombed out three times in World War II
Canadian Red Cross Quilt
  • some of the hand-stitching is stunning, especially when it has been stitched by candle or gaslight.  And if you look closely enough, not all the shapes are as crisp as they should be.  So quilts were fudged years ago as well and we don't notice it on other people's quilts straight away, nor does it diminish our pleasure of them (there is a moral there!)
One inch hexagon quilt
  • some of these quilts have their small pieces made up from scraps or they have used mended fabric, so nothing was wasted.  I can't imagine piecing two bits of fabric to make a one inch hexagon.
  • on the other hand, some of these quilts were made from new, good fabric as you can still see the glaze on the chintz, which would have washed off if it had been laundered.  
A hexagon quilt, which has been carefully 'fussy-cut'
  • you can learn a lot about printing techniques and chemical development over time by looking at the different printed cottons used.  Green was hard to make, so blue was over-printed with yellow.  Where it didn't line up, you can see the blue and yellow still.
  • fabric doesn't last forever and decay depends on what chemicals were used to dye it.  
  • quilters have always loved the new and 'exciting'
Two North Country Quilts.  The one of the left must have been one of the earliest to use viscose rayon as the fabric
  • just because it is old does not mean it is very good - we shouldn't lose our ability to be discerning when faced with something that has been lovingly preserved over the years.  However, this is a judgement call and we all have different tastes, thank goodness.
Two more of my C&G groups still have to see the collection before I return it.  If you get the chance, I would highly recommend borrowing it and spending time with these historical objects.


TheCopperQueen said...

This is such a good idea which I plan to steal immediately and use for my own C & G students - brilliant! Mary

Gillian Cooper said...

Mary you should! All the students have enjoyed it and it really brings quilt history to life as well as making us feel really grateful for rotary cutters, plastic rulers and electric light!

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