My visit to the new Quilts exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was infinitely more rewarding than anticipated. This show is as much a feast for the mind as it is a visual delight - and a must for all lovers of textiles and fashion.
The quilts on display depict the ‘hidden histories and untold stories’ of fabrics, families and creative endeavour over several centuries. Quilts are often symbolic of rites of passage - births, deaths and marriages – and the antique cot quilts in this exhibition are among the most exquisite.
There’s plenty of emotion attached to quilts, but over the centuries, the type of feelings associated with the art of patchwork seem to have changed significantly. Quilts are popularly regarded as precious items, generating ‘memories of warmth, comfort and security’ – and are often handed down as heirlooms from generation to generation.
From Victorian times, however, handicrafts like patchwork were used as a means of promoting social improvement. The Temperance Movement even adopted the pastime as a displacement activity for military personnel and those who might otherwise be lured by the temptations of gambling and alcohol.
Later examples include quilts made on prison ships, in prison of war camps, military hospitals and even at HMP Wandsworth – whose magnificent quilt is a sort of tragicomic send up of life in jail.
More recent works seem even farther removed from the cosy connotations of vintage pieces, focusing on human mortality and suffering, as well as the plight of women (traditionally those involved with the craft of quilting). Exhibits include Grayson Perry’s vivid, foetus-littered Right to Life quilt – a commentary on the anti-abortion debate in 1990s America (see right).
There are some common threads (excuse the pun) throughout the exhibition; the recycling of used fabrics, for instance – including old pyjamas, and even black-out curtains after the Second World War. And some recurring themes - like geography, nature and the passing of time.
Patriotism is also the subject of many pieces, with royalty, crests and messages of loyalty to the home country featuring widely. One of the quilts, dating from the early 19th century, has a splendid depiction of George III reviewing his troops in Hyde Park, part of which can be seen left (click on to enlarge and look out for the strange sun and moon motifs).
I’m curious to know more about the rather oddly located suns and moons, placed towards the centre of this quilt. They remind me of the sunshine patches on the quirky new handmade purses at ShopCurious.
Most of the quilts on display are so detailed, one could spend days admiring the craftsmanship and investigating the individual meaning of each masterpiece on show. Award yourself the luxury of at least a couple of hours to indulge your imagination and senses at this wonderful exhibition...
Curiculum Vitae Jeffry Zebua
6 months ago