I recently went to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see one of their current exhibitions, Quilts 1700-2010.
It was a fascinating exhibit not concentrating so much upon the mechanics of quilt making, but on the history and inspiration behind the older quilts, together with some inspiring modern quilts, some especially commissioned for the exhibit. As someone whose hand quilting days are over (and does not really approve in a very unreasonable and irrational way of quilting by sewing machine) I found some of the old quilts quite moving and admirable. However, I also loved the floral Liberty print quilt, consisting of pastel floral union jacks,called Liberty Jack by Janey Forgan and which was made in 2008
If you cannot visit the museum for the exhibition, which runs until the 4th July of this year, then I do recommend the accompanying book/catalogue by the curator of the exhibition, Sue Prichard.
The quilts I found most interesting were those from our period (now, there is a surprise, I hear you say ) and I’d like to share some of the details of them with you now, if you’ll allow.
Women and politics is a theme very much in vogue in academia at the moment and this exhibition was no exception.The quilts I was most intrigued by were not only from our era but they also expressed, with however small a “p”, political thoughts by the women who made them.
The first was made in 1799 and shows George III inspecting his volunteer troops in Hyde Park.
The centrepiece was clearly inspired by a print of the event made by John Singleton Copley.
As the catalogue states:
This seemingly inconsequential and unheroic event was in reality a vital display of domestic military strength during a period of perpetual threat of invasion. In 1799 Britain had been at war with France for six years. ..The scene at Hyde Park represented represented not just the physical protection of the king and his subjects against French aggression on home soil but the preservation of the British settlement and the body politic.
Around the edge of the quilt, as you can see ( and do remember you can enlarge this and all the other illustrations in this post merely by clicking on them) are scenes representing military and naval events: the whole quilt is a piece of home propaganda if you like, supporting the armed forces and volunteers protecting the nation in time of war.
I’m sure Anne Elliot would have approved…
Another of the quits which was intriguing was a bedcover dating from around 1820
and which has as its centre piece a printed cotton portrait of Queen Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of George IV.
Jane Austen was of course a supporter of Queen Caroline in all the Royals well-publicised disputes and wrote about her as follows in her letter to Martha Lloyd dated 16th February, 1813:
“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. –”
No doubt she would have approved of this bedcover too…..
These type of block printed commemorative panels were very popular in the early 19th century. Here is one commemorating Princess Charlotte’s marriage to Prince Leopold of 1816:
And here is a purely floral one dating from 1816:
This is similar to the centre piece of Jane Austen’s own quilt, which is still on display at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton:
This is the quilt that she made as a project with her mother, Mrs Austen, and with her sister, Cassandra. Here she is writing to Cassandra about it in her letter dated 31st May 1811:
Have you remembered to collect pieces for the patchwork? We are now at a stand-still.
No imagery of political leanings here, sadly: but that may have been due to it being a shared project. After viewing these politically inspired quilts, I would loved to have seen what Jane Austen might have embroidered, left to her own devices……