Sunday, 21 March 2010

V & A exhibition - thoughts on the King George coverlet

This astonishing piece of patchwork, "King George Reviewing the Troops", was a big talking point for us at Wednesday's preview. Curator Sue Prichard had already written about it on her blog, which only served to make me seek it out asap when I arrived (although I did get stalled by the clamshell bed drapes). The photo above is courtesy of the V & A and shows only the central panel, so you can't see the border. The quilt is bordered on all sides with a series of viginettes - the second and fourth photos are from Janet Bottomley's blog (hope that's OK with you Janet - I wish I had taken a many more photos in the exhibition, but my textile conservation mode wouldn't let me!)

It is a puzzling piece! I added the following comment to Sue's blog a couple of days ago - she makes a point about "the sense that it is perhaps two projects" -

After seeing the coverlet at Wednesday's preview, it certainly has the feeling of being two projects - perhaps two UFOs that were combined into one larger piece? Perhaps the stitcher (or stitchers) used an already completed centre panel as a background for their (probably slightly later) pictorial panels.

Having looked as closely as possible at the high resolution image on the V & A memory stick, so far I haven't identified any fabrics used in both the picture panels and the patchwork roundel backgrounds (the way the maker(s) have used different fabrics to suggest grass, planking, tiled floors etc. is lovely and so much the way a modern quilter would use prints). Perhaps the maker organised her fabrics into two groups - fabrics for the quilt centre and those for the scenes - but it feels more likely that they were the product of two different fabric collections. Continuity in fabrics over a large "scrap quilt" background like this one is hard enough without ensuring that they are reused in the border.

I have also tried to look for similarities in the stitching between the roundels and the picture panels - while these don't look (in the photo) to be necessarily the work of one person, I think I'm also detecting differences between individual roundels. However, the resolution of the image is just a tiny bit too low to be able to see the stitches as clearly as I would need to for this. Next time I visit, I must bring a magnifying glass! Having organised several community projects involving English paper piecing (the technique used here) I've noticed that there are subtle differences in the whipstitching from one stitcher to another - a little like handwriting, with some stitchers always slightly slanting their stitches left or right, differences in the number of stitches to the inch etc. Even stitchers with similar levls of experience produce recognisably different whipstitches.

Could it have been a project between friends or members of a family perhaps?

A fascinating piece of work that kept drawing me back...

Something else has been bugging me about the overall look of this piece and I think I've worked out what it is. There is something peculiar about the position of the pictorial panels. I'm not refering to the central panel, which seems superimposed on the background piecing, giving the sense of two patchwork projects combined (perhaps even three combined pieces - I must check the fabrics in the larger sun and moon circles that are partially overlapped by the central applique).

Think about it this way - if you were designing your patchwork from scratch and you were going to piece all those amazing picture panels, where would you place them on your quilt to have the most impact? Think also that your quilt is going to be displayed on a bed. Would you consign them to the outer border? Probably not. Would you put some of the best of them across the top of the quilt, which at best will be laid centrally across the pillows, but more likely the picture panels would fall down the back of the pillows even if it weren't tucked under?

I get the feeling that the circles patchwork was definitely already made when the person (or people) who made the viginettes decided to complete this piece. Otherwise, why would they be right out on the edge?

A border design needs to be integral to a quilt's overall layout, although there's nothing wrong with a fairly plain border too, if that's what the quilt design needs. Many of the best quilts we see at exhibition today don't run out of steam at the edges and have a border design that compliments and frames the quilt centre. But it is unlikely that the most interesting and decorative parts of the quilt would be reserved, with the exception of one larger panel, for the border.

Many of the other patchworks of similar date at the V & A display a tendency for the piecing to become less complex towards the border, something seen on a lot of nineteenth century quilts laid out in a medallion style, where the pieces become larger the further away they are from the centre.

Anyone else musing on this quilt too?


Anonymous said...

My name is Marta and I'm from Spain. Thanks for the Info on king George quilt and the links. I have just started a SAL for the pieced rosettes. I have made a 6" block and posted a pattern for 4 a 6 inches block.
please share if you feel it's interesting

Jovita said...

Susan you raise a lot of good points about this quilt top. I would love to have the chance to see and examine it again ... it was tightly packed in the corner the day I was there to visit and I didn't want to hog my space :). I am writing a belated entry about this quilt and have included a link to your blog entry.