Last days: Quilts 1700-1945

Cot cover | Priscilla Redding (1654–1723), Kent, England 1690–1720 | Silk | Given by Mary Ann Thomas | Collection and © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Quilts stimulate memories of warmth, comfort and security. They are familiar objects, yet carry a range of hidden histories and untold stories about textiles, women’s creativity and individual families. British quilts were often intended for display as much as for use in the bedroom. Whether exchanged as commodities, made in professional workshops or created in the home, they became objects of immense family value, often handed down through the generations.

Patchwork and quilting have long histories, although the anonymity of the makers and a lack of written documentation make it difficult to trace their development. Unfortunately, skills traditionally passed from generation to generation have a tendency to be lost, as they were in Britain in the early twentieth century. However, a desire for the handmade and a need to make do and mend has ensured that new generations of quilters continue to find ways to express their creativity through fabric and stitch.

For our last ‘Quilts 1700-1945’ profile we focus on this quilted cot cover. Priscilla Redding was born at Deal Castle in Kent, where her father was governor. She was married in 1691 in Canterbury, where she is likely to have obtained the silk velvets, satins and silver-gilt fabrics used in this quilted cot cover. Her contemporary, the English traveller Celia Fiennes (1662–1741) described Canterbury in 1697 as ‘a flourishing town’ with ‘good tradeing in ye weaving of silks’; shopping for goods for the home was one of its primary attractions.

Quilts 1700–1945’ from the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, must close Sunday 22 September 2013. Spend the last Sunday at the Gallery with our Sunday Stitch-ups in the Sculpture Courtyard from 12 noon. Enjoy hands-on workshops, contemporary talks and Suitcase Rummage markets with local designers, crafting and vintage enthusiasts.