Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Hidden Histories, Untold Stories

Two years ago, the V&A museum in London held an exhibition called Quilts 1700-2010, curated by Sue Prichard. I was in my final year at WSA when I attended the exhibition, which has been a big influence on my current work as well as the work I was producing at the time. In the last few weeks I finally decided to purchase the book that was published alongside the exhibition which gives more depth into the items that were on display, as well as a bit more history to the practice. 

The exhibition contained contemporary works from Tracey Emin, Caren Garfen and Grayson Perry, alongside more historical pieces which tell stories from farmlands and out at seas. It was important for me to buy the book so I could refer back to some of the key quilts which have stayed with me for over two years.

Alongside Caren Garfens tumble-dryer fluff lined quilt, I was heavily inspired by quilts dated from the 1800's which were still in average condition with deterioration of the fabric allowing you to see the layers underneath. Below the fabric surface of a 1829 coverlet lies paper templates, used to keep fabric stiff and easier to sew patches together, not to mention making the coverlet warmer to sleep under. However, with the tacking stitches still in place and the backing on show, this quilt was never finished.
The detail of the paper reveals that this quilt was made during the 1790's and up until the 1810's, with use of papers such as 'ledger books, Children's copy books, advertisements, newspapers and receipts.' You can read details of children's notes with 'lists of numbers, grammatical sentences, historical fact' as well as personal papers of letters and bills. This reuse of paper taken from around the home shows a use of initiative and how scarce paper was in the home that they has to reuse important documents to help make the quilt.

The importance of the quilt to my current work is the use of paper in the production of the quilt. The paper is used to strengthen the production. In modern quilting, the paper and its tacking stitches would be removed once the patches are all sewn together, so that the wadding and backing to be put in place and the quilt complete. In the case of this 200 year old quilt, the paper speaks as loud as the patch itself, revealing mild details of the people involved with the production. The front of the quilt identifies who the quilt was for, John and Elizabeth Chapman, but the paper templates show the hard work and the small insight into the quilters life.

 Details of the back of the uncompleted quilt from 1829. You can see the tacking stitches of the fabric to paper, and the patches sewn together. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing the details from how this quilt was being constructed piece by piece, and even being able to see and determine small parts of the history of the quilter.

The ability to read the paper on the back has inspired me and my current live project- The Patch Project - with the final outcome and the presentation. More details to come soon so wait around for a few pictures and updates.

Images and quotes taken from Quilts 1700-2010, edited by Sue Prichard, 2010.

Quilts 1700-2010  Guardian Review
The Patch Project at JenniferBabey.co.uk

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