SOMETHING DIFFERENT THIS TIME....
... from my usual book reviews. I’ll be going back to those on Wednesday May 26th, when I’ll write about Nicola Morgan’s latest, Wasted and Gillian Philip's Bad Faith. Meanwhile, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to a most wonderful exhibition at the V&A . It’s called Quilts, 1700-2010 and it ends on the 4th July, which gives you a few weeks to get there. If this is your kind of thing, it’s very much worth your while, because it seems to me to be a real example of how to arrange and curate an exhibition. This link will take you to the V&A site where you’ll find a few more details about such things as how to get there, book, etc. There’s also a link on the V&A site to curator Susan Prichard’s blog, which is fascinating. It’s worth booking in advance as this is an enormously popular show.
There’s everything here you could possibly wish for to look at. Not only domestic quilts, made by (mostly) women for practical purposes, but also very elaborate ornamental patchworks and quilts, patchworks for display and commemoration and (most moving, these are) quilts made in times of adversity. Convict women sailing to Australia in 1841 made the Rajah Quilt on the journey and I give notice to all Sassies that I’m bagging that story as the basis of a future book. Then, echoing that, there’s a quilt made at Wandsworth prison by present-day male inmates, who were helped by a most unusual and interesting charity called Fine Cell Work to create a piece which describes their thoughts about being in gaol. It’s inspiring to see the effect that needlework has on men who’ve never had a chance to express themselves in such a way before. See this link. http://www.finecellwork.co.uk/aboutus/
Sailors and soldiers have made quilts. Women and girls in a Japanese prisoner -of- war camp made a most beautiful piece on which each of them has embroidered her name. There are bedspreads, cot blankets, bed curtains, decorative pieces and in some what’s touching is the lack of skill of the maker. That’s beautiful in its own way. Contemporary artists have added pieces which give their take on the art of patchwork and quilting. I loved a piece called Liberty Jack which makes a Union flag out of thousands of bits taken from Liberty prints. That’s by Janey Forgan.. There’s a quilt made of Chinese bank notes. Grayson Perry’s contribution is characteristically striking and Tracey Emin has provided a contrast to her famous unmade bed in a really beautiful four-poster hung with velvets and satins and embroidered with slogans. But these are not the real highlight of the show, which for me was the wealth of memory and imagination on display from all kinds of people through the years. Traditional patchwork and quilting is still flourishing. Below I give a link to a most gorgeous book by the excellent Jane Brocket which will guide anyone who’s interested in pursuing the art of patchwork themselves.
I’m a knitter rather than a needlewoman, but I’ve always thought of patchwork as a kind of metaphor for life and one of my very earliest books is about an elderly lady who tells stories from a patchwork she’s made to a child in bed under that same quilt. Barn Owl Books rescued this from oblivion for a while and I was delighted to see it back in print but now it’s out of print again. I’m providing a link anyway.
The exhibition shop is full of things, most of which are very expensive and some of which are annoying. Why is it that you can never buy postcards of the very things you love best? Still, a pack of 20 cards for £7.50 is good value. I just wish there were a fridge magnet because I collect those. Still, never mind. It’s a tiny criticism of a really marvellous exhibition. Do visit it if you can. Hurray for the V&A and congratulations to Susan Prichard and everyone who helped her put it on.