will present its first major exhibition of quilts next spring. Exploring 300 years of British quilt making, the exhibition will show more than 65 quilts from a cot cover made in the 1690s to recent examples by leading contemporary artists including Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry as well as special commissions by Sue Stockwell, Caren Garfen and Jo Budd.
The first exhibition of its kind in the UK, Quilts 1700-2010 will show an extraordinary variety of quilts from the highly decorative and opulent such as the Bishops Court Quilt, once believed to have been created by a Duke for a visit from King Charles II in 1670, to modest homemade bed covers, all testifying to the creativity and imagination of the makers. Where appropriate the quilts will be displayed on bed mounts, including a unique set of 1730 patchwork bed hangings, enabling visitors to experience how they were originally designed to be seen.
Each quilt has a unique story to tell and the curators have unravelled some of the complex narratives and personal stories handed down with each intricately pieced quilt. The 1829 Elisabeth Chapman coverlet, commemorating Wellingtons Victory at Vittoria, was believed to be a marriage token. However, the curators have discovered that the love poem on the coverlet is actually an epitaph connected to a macabre Georgian tale. The exhibition will end with Tracey Emins To Meet My Past (2002), a confessional installation which follows the tradition of quilts used as vessels for personal and collective memories.
Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, said: The exhibition has provided a wonderful opportunity to research and restore our own collection. We have discovered some fascinating material which adds a new dimension to our understanding of the personal and social histories behind these quilts.
Alongside the V&As quilts will be loans from museums around the country including Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Glasgow Museums. On loan from the National Gallery of Australia for the very first time will be the Rajah quilt, made in 1841 by women convicts aboard the HMS Rajah as they were being transported to Van Diemans Land (present day Tasmania). There will also be prints and paintings, including one by Hogarth, as well as additional contextual material such as personal diaries and keepsakes relating to the quilts and their makers.
The exhibition will be presented chronologically and thematically. The contemporary works will be woven throughout following the themes: Silks, Satins and Velvets The Domestic Landscape; Private Thoughts, Public Debates; British Eccentricity; Making A Living and Memory and Memorial. Together the quilts document love, marriage, births, deaths, periods of intense patriotic fervour, regional and national identity and developments in taste and fashion.
In several cases, historic events and personal narratives are intriguingly woven together. A highlight is a cotton coverlet depicting George III Reviewing the Troops (1803-05) where the maker, an unknown young woman, has inserted her portrait into several of the military scenes. A silk and ribbon cot quilt from Deal Castle (1690-1720) will be shown for the first time with portraits of the children who slept beneath it and the makers diary written in code, which reveals political intrigue and family life in the 18th century.
One of the aims of the exhibition is to inspire a new generation to take up their needles and explore the idea of patchwork and quilt making. There has been a renewed interest in recent years in learning the craft and the V&A will hold a series of workshops and lectures during the exhibition giving people a chance to make their own quilts.