Saturday, 1 May 2010

V & A Quilt Exhibition

Oh lucky husband blest of heaven
To thee the privilege is given
A much loved wife at home to keep
Caress touch talk to - even sleep

Thrice happy mortal's envied lot
What a rare treasure thou has got
Who to a woman can lay claim
Whose temper's every day the same*

Could have been written about me, wink wink!

On Thursday, Anne and I slipped into our comfiest shoes, packed a picnic with lashings of ginger beer and home-made flapjack and jumped on a London-bound train to visit the quilt exhibition at the V & A.  

Lots of you will have read about this on other blogs and in the media, so forgive me if you've been down this road before, but there's a few links you might not have seen.   And if you are planning to go, but haven't done so yet, I'm hoping this might just tip you over into making the trip if you possibly can.  

This article by Waldemar Januszczak in The Sunday Times is a really good place to start.   And there are loads of photos of the quilts on sneaky magpie's blog and cotton patch's blog (they had a preview - the rest of us weren't allowed to take photos).

Sometimes it was a bit hard to jostle close enough to the description signs to see the quilt's story.   Occasionally the detail on some quilts was difficult to pick out and I did really wonder whether I should have brought binoculars - I wasn't the only one to set the alarms off by leaning in too close to peer at a wall-hung quilt!   Though I completely understand the reason for it, some of the lighting levels were very low and the quilts displayed on bed-shaped plinths were so flat and far away that the detail was lost.   Still, we were so lucky to see them at all.

Every quilt, ancient and modern, was fascinating, so I'm not going to blether on here about each one of them.   But there were one or two whose stories were for me particularly poignant or appealing.  

There is a coverlet put together by the 20 Girl Guides held prisoner in 1943 in Changi Jail.   I used to pass this hideous glowering, towering edifice on the way to one of our favourite beaches in Singapore when I was the same age as the girls who secretly made this little quilt for their Guide leader.   Sadly, their quilt was never finished, as it was confiscated by the prison guards.   Please click here to see a filmed interview with one of the Guides (now an old lady) who worked on the quilt - but have a hankie ready.  

Prison life is the connection with another moving piece of work.   This time by the inmates of Wandsworth Jail.   Fine Cell Work is a fascinating website with some truly wonderful and skilful embroideries and quilted work for sale and, again, touching stories from the prisoners themselves about the way their lives have been changed for the better through needlework.

I loved the 'make-do-and-mend' theme illustrated by two Irish quilts - old pyjamas and wartime demob suits turned into crazy quilts, a quilt made with blackout curtains  and one backed with the cotton used for Red Cross famine relief parcels.    Caren Garfen's modern screenprinted patches comment on a woman's lot - I smiled at the 'bit of fluff' allusion reflected in the use of tumble-dryer lint as wadding.    The Women's Institute, the Rural Industries Bureau, and quilting clubs in  mining villages all contributed in the early 20th Century to the proliferation of the skill and the potential to earn an income in deprived areas.   Memories of the women who worked in this area were broadcast as we walked around.

And this aspect deserves a paragraph of its own - the stunning, vibrant, good-as-new colours of quilts that are 300 years old. Unbelievable. Got to be seen to be believed.

* The quotation at the top is taken from a coverlet made by Elisabeth Chapman in 1829 - I like her sense of humour!

So, after three-and-a-half hours we had done the exhibition, eaten our picnic and it was time to hit the V & A Shop, where there were loads of quilt-themed goodies for sale.   Did we buy anything?   What do you think!

a postcard of Natasha Kerr's quilt

some wrapping paper

a fat quarter

lots of ceramic buttons

And we quite liked these bags made from suit sleeves, but resisted

And click here to go to Alice Palace's delightful website to see her greetings cards - I bought one with the Indian Runner Ducks on it.

You've got until 4th July to get to the V & A to see the exhibition for yourself - if you are remotely interested in textiles I can thoroughly recommend it.  


Gina said...

It was wonderful wasn't it... I'm going again in a couple of weeks and already thinking whether I could justify a third visit!

vintagerockchick said...

I loved the Quilt show too and will probably go again - now that I'm a member of the V&A - how grown up is that?!?!?
Beats Les Miseries hands down!

silverpebble said...

Oh my goodness those buttons are stunning. I have an attack of the wanties.

Things Hand Made said...

I am off to see it in 2 weeks! yippeee though Amazon have sold out of the books which is a bit of a boohoo.

Anonymous said...

What can I possibly add? I had a fab day out with you Chrissie and thoroughly enjoyed it - thanks for your company (alarms and all!). It is indeed a fantastic exhibition and I'm only wondering if I can possibly get back again before it finishes!

Menopausal musing said...

Wow! Looks like it was a wonderful trip. Love the buttons. I have masses of bits of broken china dug up whilst gardening and these buttons kind of remind me of them.

Printed Material said...

You make me want to go and see this even more than I did already. Terrible review in Selvedge magazine pointing out all the things you mention but I doubt I'd care less to see Natasha Kerr's work. Thanks for the video link - that was fascinating. I so love the idea of stories and narratives attached to creative work. I have quite a few ceramic buttons- I never want to use them! Love the one with the two birds on! Getting that train timetable out now to see when and how I can make this trip.... Lesley x

Sue said...

Hi Chrissie, I can't wait to see this exhibition, I'm going with a friend very soon. It looks amazing - thanks for the preview!