Crafty Book Review -Quilts 1700 - 2010 Hidden Histories, Untold Stories

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In 2010 the Victoria and Albert Museum held a ground breaking exhibition surveying the history of Quilts in Britian. This is the book that accompanied that exhibition. I wish I could make a knowledgeable comment on whether it is as amazing as the exhibition itself. If I had a time machine, I would be tempted to see this exhibition again and again on the basis of the book alone.

Liberty Jack, Janey Forgan, 2008
©V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Before I go any further, I must admit my bias. I have a weakness for reference books, books that give historical context and almost any publication by the V&A. Consequently, this book is right up my alley. I love it when a book is something that you can return to again and again, learning a little more each time. I also like to see how what we sew today, is based on what has gone before and how these works have been changed by larger events.

The exhibition has had a resounding effect on the online quilting community. Janey Forgan’s Liberty Jack (seen above) has been and inspiration to many quilters and stylists alike. A quick search on shows that it has even inspired it’s own flickr group.

The Rajah quilt 1841 -
Made by women on board the convicts ship Rajah en route to Australia

©V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The book appears to be an almost complete catalogue of the exhibition. Accompanying the beautiful photos are a range of essays giving both historical context and relevance of the artform today. I loved the essays that added personal histories in the context of the time. It was intriguing to see the diverse range of sources used by the researchers too. There were the heartbreaking records of identifying patchwork left with abandoned babes at foundling homes, fabric left in the hope that one day when the mother had a means of support she could identify her child and reclaim them. Also the more comical tracing of the popularity of quilts by looking through the lists of stolen items in court records. One or two essays read as if they were intended for academia, but the majority was quite accessible.

I was too busy reading, rather than taking notes while I had this book out. This is a mixed blessing as it means that as I came to write this review I have stumbled upon the accompanying curators blog. Over here you can read about Sue Pritchard’s journey in putting the exhibition together and read about some of her favourite pieces in the exhibition.

A collection of essays by different authors with relevant quilts illustrating each one and a catalogue of photos covering quilts not featured elsewhere in the book.

What I like:
Can I say that I liked everything? While it is not going to tell me how to quilt, it might shine a light on why we quilt and leaves me wanting to try some of the older techniques and styles.

What I’d Pass on:
Some of the essays were probably best left to the accompanying conference proceedings.

What I’d Like to try:
There are no projects in this book. Sometimes it is nice to finish the book and marvel at it, rather than just want to get stuck into making things from it. That said, I am tempted to try some paper pieced clamshells, but perhaps on a smaller scale than the entire 4 posted bed with curtains.

Who I’d recommend it to:
In short ME. I would also recommend it to quilters with a passion for historical context or textileartist/craftsman who are looking for a source of inspiration. I feel it would be wasted as a coffee table book as much of it begs to be read and deserves to be pored over time and time again.

If you are looking for projects to make, this is not your book. Instead give the accompanying Patchwork for Beginners, also by Sue Pritchard, a try. This book also serves as a smaller, dip your toes in the water, introduction to the history of British quilting.

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