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Quilts 1700 – 2010

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London celebrates four centuries of quilts in their latest textiles exhibition

Written by Sally Mumby Croft


One lovely spring day in March, ailment I found myself in the company of fellow Amelia’s Magazine writer Satu Fox (see her quilt here) on a trip to see the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Quilts exhibition. I was excited and intrigued to see what form this exhibition to take – thinking as I travelled along the Piccadilly line through the swarms of excited tourists: how to display quilts? How to convey their memories and the time taken to craft them without overwhelming the audience with text? Fascinated by the process of recording oral history I was keen to experience history that had been stitched, online adorned, tessellated, hung on walls and spread across beds.

It turns out the exhibition is simple in concept; quilts are laid on beds or hung upon walls, spilt into bite sized chunks of quilting history namely: Making a living, Meeting the Past, Virtue and Virtuosity, Private Thoughts – Political Debates and the Domestic Landscape. Enabling the visitor to move between quilts – viewing the changes between quilts from different areas, houses and for different purposes. Throughout, modern quilts are interjected amongst the archive; their use of structural materials a stark contrast to the homely nature of the rest. It is intriguing to see the consideration of quilt as an art object due to the stance of the modern artist, however I think an unexplored potential of this exhibition is the latent object hood inherent in quilts. They are expressions of being confined to a single space of existence. Modern artists differ perhaps because they make a more aggressive exploration of the notions of femininity and the worth of different types of work. Art and Craft (A debate intensified during the establishment of the Royal Academy of Art under Joshua Reynolds) have long been in argument about their ‘status’.

Whilst I found it difficult in the exhibition to do anything other than absorb them visually, the exhibition is well documented with the quilts placed into context through accompanying letters.

Not surprisingly, considering the emphasis placed on an idea called home, the exhibition is incredibly popular. Quilts is reminiscent of the permanent exhibition at the Geffrye Museum, a fascinating insight into the development of the modern home. Quilts enables us to trace the development of ideas on comfort, sleep and protection whilst demonstrating a continued desire for beautiful objects. Whilst I can no longer read the illustrations present on them, these quilts act as memory holders for lost stories and precious family moments.

Quilts is an interesting glimpse into the V&A’s extensive collection, and exictingly the museum are encouraging people to upload their quilts onto the website developing a new archive of homemade quilts from the 21st Century. They are also hosting extensive workshops on making quilts, the hidden history of quilts and a variety ways to make quilts find more information here.

You can also read the curator of Quilts blog.  

Quilts 1700 – 2010
Until 4th July, £10 adults, £6 students, free for members


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