Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - possibly the most beautiful Victorian quilt I have seen.

My sister and I came across this beautiful quilt at Ardingly Antiques Fair last week. I absolutely adore it, Zoe did the maths, and worked out that it is made up of over 1,500 tiny individually hand-sewn diamonds.... I don't know very much about antique quilts, but am becoming fascinated by them, as they so often have such interesting cultural stories to tell or evoke.

Phyllis from the wonderful blog Mendofleur has offered to do some research for me with the help of a friend, so watch this space. In the meantime, I can't resist imagining how and why it may have been made! Perhaps it was made by a group of friends or family members, all making parts that were carefully stitched together into a whole quilt as they met up, chatted and gossiped, laughed and listend together through the long winter evenings. Or maybe the mammoth task was accomplished by one woman, it could have been, as the stitching seems remarkably consistant, and I have heard that hand stitching is a very individual thing, a bit like a painter's brushstroke. So it may have ben worked as part of a trousseau, or as an ongoing project to add to the treasured family bed-linen store.

I think it was probably made around the mid 1800s, some of the fabrics look contemporary to this, eg. the turkey red plain diamonds, and others earlier fabrics, the tiny prints, were most likely recycled from old dresses dating from about 1800. The central panel may be a bit earlier - a block printed panel, in the chinoiserie style - I think it dates to the late 1700s.

We think it has been restored a little at about 1950, 2 patches have been poorly replaced with what looks like 1950s floral cottons - I shall replace them with contemporary 18oos cotton patches at some point - and the backing has been replaced, the old backing removed and a narrow cotton binding machined to the quilt top to keep it stable when the new backing was machined on. As far as I can tell, it looks English, each tiny patch would have been made around a paper template, I assume that these have been removed, as the few patches I can see in through an unpicked piece of the lining show them to have gone, but I can't tell for sure, as the backing covers most of the quilt. However it was made, it must have been a labour of love, a thing not only of great beauty, but enormously practical.


  1. Mmmmm the pictures have come out so well. Such a fabulous find, it reminds me of the Jane Austen quilt, made by Jane, her sister and mother.

  2. I have googled it, I see what you mean! What a beautiful quilt, and to have such an incredible provenance, a real piece of culyural history. Sad that mine came with no information about its makers, but perhaps we can find out more little by little! x