Quite surprisingly, the Quilts exhibition at the V&A is the first in the museum’s history. Nevertheless, the museum is clearly preparing for a blockbuster, with yards and yards (literally) of merchandising opportunities in the gift shop as you exit – the V&A has produced swatches of limited-edition fabric samples for inspired exhibition goers to get quilting with; books on how-to-quilt, as well as the exhibition catalogue. Of course, the bookshop also has loads of other quilting books to choose from.
My company got complimentary tickets from the V&A and my colleague Stu and I were gagging to go – strange really, two guys (one straight) instead of all the girls . . .
The V&A has clearly put a lot of work and thought into the show, and the results are stunning and amazingly inspirational. The show gives an overview of the historical context and development of quilting, plus very specific insights into the stories of individual pieces – quilting seems intrinsically to sew stories into the piece, as the quilts were made for specific people, to commemorate specific events, were made from material recycled from other projects which had their own stories – and were ultimately handed down through generations and thus embodied family history.
As we zoom headlong recklessly into a future with a fraction of the resources than we currently enjoy, it was great to see how people’s relationship with the material world was actually richer then than now – every scrap of fabric was prized; saved for reuse in a quilt; every scrap of paper too as the bedrock of the quilted patch (even if most of the stories of women using their husband’s love letters appear to be fabrications – most of the papers used were old tradesmen’s bills). This was recycling on the level of the individual household – ingenuity was used to rework one obsolete item into another, more useful one.
This aspect inspired me as much as the beautiful workmanship on display.
As a counterpoint to this, the V&A has commissioned new pieces from artists – there are quite wonderful pieces by Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin. Emin’s done a new bed; far more sumptuous than the infamous Tate one of the last decade. Perry’s piece was quite small but packed an emotional punch. It’s a pity the show didn’t have his new tapestries, but I assume they were simply too large to exhibit in the relatively intimate spaces of the V&A temporary exhibition rooms.
Victorian and Albert Museum
20 March - 4 July 2010