Following the opening weekend of events and the first bustling weeks of ‘Quilts 1700-1945’, I feel like it’s a good time to sit down with a cup of milky English breakfast tea and describe how this extraordinary exhibition of historic British textiles has come together over the past few weeks.
In the lead up to this exhibition I’ve spent the past twelve months looking at reproductions of the patchworks and quilts from the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum’s collection in anticipation of their arrival in Brisbane. Like paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints and photographs, nothing, however beautifully reproduced, can really prepare you for how absorbing material objects such as these can be when you see them for the first, (second, even third) time in front of you. The printed fabrics made in the 18th and 19th centuries, in India and Britain, which make up the hundreds of patches in each of these works are truly stunning, and it’s clear from seeing these pieces how influential they have been on subsequent textile designers.
I was also captivated by the broad social history that emerged in each section of the exhibition as the quilts were unpacked, laid on their plinths and hung on the walls. On seeing the quilts arranged and hearing V&A curator Sue Prichard talk about what she had discovered in her research, pieces which had not previously appeared to warrant special attention were completely transformed for me and became compelling objects in their own right — look out for the globe complete with a map of Australia in the top right corner of ‘Coverlet with Sundial’ dated 1797 and consider the young girl sleeping in a Morrison shelter under the ‘Canadian Red Cross Bedcover’ 1939-41, as the bombs were falling during the Blitz in London.
Walking through ‘Quilts 1700-1945’ is a fascinating and beautiful experience. On display until 22 September 2013.