Friday, 26 March 2010

Quilts Galore

It was another exciting day for the sister and I today, dear readers, as off we popped back into London for another eagerly anticipated event in our social calendar!

We arrived early (for us) at the Victoria and Albert Museum to visit the current Quilts exhibition.

Entry to the exhibition is by timed ticket which can be bought on the day and whilst entry to the museum and the majority of the exhibits is free, there is a charge of £10 to visit the Quilts exhibition. Sadly, no photography is allowed. We were given a little booklet on our entry to the exhibition and I have taken a few snaps for you of its content.

The very first thing you see straight in front of you is this bed with its rather spectacular hangings and coverlet, made circa 1730-1750. It is patchworked in the "shell" pattern rather splendidly.

The exhibition is arranged as a series of rooms. Broadly speaking, you start at the earliest quilts and progress through to the current ones. However, the quilts are also arranged in broad themes such as "Meeting the Past", "Virtue and Virtuosity" and "Making a Living" so there are a few modern quilts mixed in with the older ones at the start of the exhibition.

Our thoughts on the exhibition are these: overall, we enjoyed the exhibition and we were glad we went as we are, obviously, fairly quilt mad! There are a lot of very old quilts and these are often very beautiful, tell interesting stories of times gone by and feature some amazing handiwork not often seen now which is a privilege to behold. However, we pretty much disliked all of the modern quilts. There was a good section on Durham quilts, most of which were on loan from Beamish, the quilting was stunning, and some interesting quilts produced during the war (one using a blackout curtain as a backing with granny's garden hexagons on top, one made as a charity quilt by Americans for homeless Britons using my fave sort of flowery prints of the era, tied with bright red wool/thread). There was an interesting quilt accompanied by a video, which was recently made by prisoners at HMP Wandsworth. The story of how the men found a purpose and pleasure in quilting was most revealing. BUT my dear readers, there were some shockers!

Some of the modern ones were just, quite frankly, bizarre, made out of very weird materials and rather gloomy in colour with boring quilting. We were also a bit bemused by the declarations by the modern day makers that there were "deep" meanings behind their quilts. Whilst personal thoughts and messages have long been reflected in quilts, for example the historical quilts often reflected thoughts on politics and war in a broad pictorial sense, or celebrated births and marriages, they were generally made as a pleasurable pastime and indeed there were several cute children's cot quilts. The "modern messages" all seemed either contrived or distasteful. There was a bizarre offering by Tracy Emin, the main hanging on the bed emblazoned with the words "weird sex". Make of that what you will. And let's not mention the horrid Grayson Perry quilt featuring unborn foetuses!

The one major exception, in my opinion, was the lovely "Liberty Jack" quilt which took a traditional Union Jack as the design for each block, each being made in a different colour palette of Liberty Tana lawn fabrics. I hope you can make it out on the postcard below.

I realise that art is a very subjective matter so I am only offering my opinion on the exhibition and will be interested to read what others think but really, if that is the face of modern quilting! Where were the stunning quilts of the 1930's, the lovely feedsacks? Where was Kaffe Fassett? I just don't think the modern quilts represented what the majority of us normal folks are making and enjoying, it was just too "arty farty" for my liking. We overheard many mutters which declared that many visitors to the exhibition agreed with us. There were audible groans when people approached the strange modern quilts and we actually overheard someone wondering where Kaffe's quilt was and indeed, his was the book everyone was reaching for in the book shop!

Ah, steam safely let off, let's indulge in a little retail therapy shall we then? Who can that be, not buying more fabric after the last two days, surely? Do Virgin Trains charge excess baggage?

Here in the bookshop, as you can see, there was plenty of the "limited edition" quilting fabric available, though you might like to note that it is more expensive than it is in Liberty, (£10 per metre in Liberty and £11.50 at the V&A). There were some items for sale made from these fabrics, lavender sacks and the like, and the usual notepads, pens and magnets adorned with quilt patterns.

There was a reasonable selection of quilting books (there could have been more).

All "quilted out", we follow our noses to the cafe for lunch. The V&A really is the most stunning building, those Victorians knew how to do a job well, and we admire it as we go along our way.

Now you might think me mad for taking photos of the rooms in which you can eat your nice (but rather expensive) lunch, but have a look...

My favourite is the Morris (as in William Morris) room.

Oh golly, eating at home will never be the same again!

Am-a-zing, aren't they?

Now what is this on the way out? Oh, it's another shop!

Here, there is an eye-catching section dedicated to fashion and in particular, that marvellous British brand responsible for the stunning frocks of the 1940's and '50's, Horrockses.

And there in the display cabinet (making it a trifle hard to photograph with my diddy camera), is a beautiful original Horrockses' dress (in fact there are two of them, one on either side of the entrance to the shop).

Two books came home with the Hen today. I am having a book fest at the moment, it always seems to be the case that books I want appear in clusters. Do you find that?

I was thrilled to find the new Jane Brocket book, "The Gentle Art of Quilt-Making". I've had it on pre-order from Amazon who are now telling me it is unobtainable so I impatiently bought one there and then instead. Oh, but it promises to be a treat - and a half.

I haven't had a chance for a proper look yet, I am saving it and savouring the prospect of it, for after dinner but it looks simply beautiful.

We'll revisit this book for a little review another time, perhaps?

Ooh yes!

I also HAD to buy the book about Horrockses. It is toooo lovely for words.

As you will know from my purchase at the CL Fair on Wednesday, I am a vintage dress lover so this book was a must-buy, covering my favourite period of the 1940's and '50's.

More of that another time too, when it has been properly digested over the weekend. (There will be an exhibition devoted to Horrockses at the Fashion and Textile Museum starting 9 July. One for the diary.)

I didn't buy these fabrics today, I bought them from Liberty a while back, but thought you might like to see a few of the limited edition fabrics produced by them in conjunction with the V&A.

Phew! I hope you have enjoyed the reports of our trips this week, we are a bit tired but sated, I think. How can I confess that I also have a VERY exciting day lined up tomorrow too. I hope you will join me to read about that soon. A heartfelt thanks to my commenters on the CL post, I did really appreciate your thanks because creating posts like these is a pretty time-consuming job, to be honest! With that, I am going to wave toodle-loo to my sister (until our next get-together in May for a rather special flower show) and go and prepare my Friday night vodka and tonic. Why is it that it always tastes the best of the whole week? Have a lovely weekend, please...

Edit: Bizarrely enough, I received a message from somebody at the V&A stating that they and Liberty both charge the same, £11.50 per metre for the fabric. All I can say is that when I bought the fabric in Liberty about a month ago, it was definitely £10 per metre but maybe they have now changed the price?


  1. Love the fabric and the books, Hen!

  2. Thanks so much for the guided tour. Being on the other side of the world this is the closest I will get to the exhibition. Can't wait to see your Horricks book.

  3. brilliant post - am aiming to get to the exihibition sometime soon - i must admit my heart sank somewhat when i heard that Tracey Ermin had a quilt displayed and you have said what i was thinking on that score - what a shame - soo many other lovely modern quilts they could have had!


  4. What a lovely post. really interesting and I think some very valid points about arty-fartyism. it seems to encroach everywhere. To me quilts are useful, pretty and warm made from either favourite fabrics or saved snippets but surely to be enjoyed not to make people cringe. I don't profess to be a great quilt maker, but have made one for each of my beds and I love them. They wouldn't win any art prizes but I would sooner have them than any of that modern rubbish.
    Keep up the good work.
    Jenny x

  5. What a wonderful day. I always head for the Morris room for tea..its fabulous

  6. What a wonderful day. I always head for the Morris room for tea..its fabulous

  7. Lovely post Hen - I'm off to the Quilt show in a few weeks and I fear I will feel the same as you about the 'trendy' stuff. Like you, I also visited (and posted about) the CL Fair today!

  8. Thank you, Hen, for taking us along to the Fair and then also to the V&A.

    I am guessing that I would have had similar opinions to yours on both venues. All the same, I so wish that I could visit each of them myself.

    I do agree with you about the beauty of the V&A, well aside from its special exhibits. Just the building alone is worth many repeat visits.


  9. I've heard really good things about the quilts exhibition on Twitter but I think it sounds like the emperor's new clothes!It's crazy not having Kaffe!! I do like the union jack one & the shop looks good. :) x

  10. I went back to the v & a yesterday with a friend first thing, on second viewing I enjoyed it more I think - i found it a little odd that no Kaffe quilts were there too.

  11. Now that is one exhibition I would have loved to have seen! Have you ever seen the Quilts at Claverton Manor - The American Museum in Bath they are interesting too.

  12. Woman's Hour did a feature on this exhibition and it did sound fascinating. They mentioned the TE and the GP and the prison one. And also one made on board a convict ship. That's the thing about art it's so diverse!
    Lisa x

  13. I really want to visit this exhibition, so thank you for the tour. Also just off to buy the Horricks book -love the fashions

    Cheers Sue

  14. Hi Hen
    Very informative post. If I had been to see the quilts I think that I would have formed the same opinions as you.
    I also agree that the V&A itself is a work of art and am quite happy wandering around it for its own sake.
    I would have particularly liked to see the Horrocks's display and am definatly going to go to the exhibition that you mention.
    You are a mine of information!

  15. Thankyou for sharing your most inspiring outing with us! How lovely to have a sister that shares the same loves as you! I thik I'd probably agree with you about the 'art' quilts. Contemporary artists these days seem to think their artwork is successful if they get a dramatic reaction from it negative or positive. (Especially negative in my observation!) Kaffe Fasset is one of my favourite designers, king of the quilts I say!xx

  16. I remember my Mum wearing a 50's dress exactly like the one the lady is wearing in that book!
    Thnks for showing us round the exhibition...very interesting.


  17. Another wonderful post, I'm starting to drool at all the loveliness.
    Thank you for sharing another great day out and for the peak into your new books.

  18. Thanks for the tour, what a wonderful exhibition.
    Twiggy x

  19. Hi Hen
    I won't be able to get to the Quilt exhibition so fully appreciate your post about your day there. I also love eating at the V&A and remember going to an Art and Garden lecture there and sitting in the William Morris room all on my lonesome, there was so much to just sit and admire that I didn't worry about being on my own. For me Horrocks is simply the best though. Thanks for all the lovely pics.

  20. I love quilts!! The exhibition looks amazing, Thanks so much for showing us around. I'm new to blogging and am loving reading about your goings on and makes!!
    Thanks and much love Stacy Naomi xx

  21. I think your observations are spot on! The old quilts were fabulous & so interesting to look at & the detail & skill amazing, but the modern ones weren't inspiring at all!

    We had our lunch at Liberty instead of the V&A as we popped over there to look at their quilts too.


  22. I absolutely loved the exhibition. My favourite was the Wandsworth one. I didn't like all the modern quilts but I did like the one where the maker had stitched the photograph of her grandfather into it. All in all I thought it was brilliant.

  23. Thank you so much for this review, I wanted to go with my mum over easter but after your post I think maybe my money would be better spent on some Liberty fabric! Don't suppose you know of any sixties exhibitions anytime over the summer? xo

  24. Thank you so much for a trip round the V&A and then Liberty. I love you r pics and then best of all you took me to the County Living Fair. I bought those ladies from this'n'that via mail order they are lovely. Thank for the delicious tours

  25. OO! Hen.
    You bring such loveliness to my day! Thank you.
    As we're such a long way away from London, I've requested a special gift for my birthday in May. Yes a trip to the V&A to see the quilt exhibition. It's the only way I'll get to see it. It's such a looooong time to wait though!

    Will all those books be sold out by then!
    Will there be any fabric left! Will I be able to bare the waiting!!!

    Snap I've just made a fabric wedding cake too!

  26. What a lovely day, thank you for sharing it with us!

  27. Hi Hen

    I really enjoyed the virtual trip! The 2 books look worth having, especially Horrockses.
    I'm not so hot some of the so called Modern art things you sometimes see at exhibitions. What you described is the kind of thing I can't stand and it annoys me that so many get away with calling it art when a lot of the time it's a load of tatesless rubbish. Just because it is by someone well known it will sell...
    Anyway back to the V&A, it is indeed a stunning building. The last time I went there would have been around 12 years ago!
    Enjoyed catching up with your other posts, lovely dress you have bought. I like the colours.

    Warm wishes
    Isabelle x

  28. I'm so pleased you went to the quilt show for me hen. I think I'd be at one with you in not going for the arty quilts. Can't believe they didn't put in Kaffe Fassett, that's an extraordinary over-sight. I was thinking about going to that exhibition, but I've changed my mind now, purely because they excluded feedsack quilts, which is a terrible over-sight. Anyway, your lunch in the William Morris rooms is just what I love to do when I go to London, though it's usually the more affordable cuppa and piece of cake for me. I'm on the Amazon waiting list for jane's book too! And that Horrock's book is also going on my list to buy, it looks divine! Love Vanessa xxx

  29. This is my first comment after reading your blog for at least a year!

    Well said on the modern quilts; they sound perfectly dire and you can always depend on Tracy Emin to lower the tone! It seems such a shame to have such a glorious building filled with so many lovely quilts and then a few rubbish ones, just because someone (though they are never identified) says the makers are artists. I'm probably a boring old curmudgeon, but art should please, not revolt.

    Thank you for your cheery reviews, they are always such a pleasure to read. Sarah

  30. I know it's a while since you posted this, but I'm just writing up my comments on the contemporary quilts and remembered how similar my feeling were to yours, so popped back to read again!!Some very odd inclusions and exclusions!! x


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