Antique Quilts


One of the best places to find design ideas or just basic patterns for things is to look at quilts. Yes, quilts! And that's why I'm blogging about this:

During preparations for Quilts 1700-2010 (20 March - 4 July 2010), many of the Museum’s quilts were taken out of store for the first time in decades so that they could be photographed and examined prior to conservation. Following the publication of 'X-radiography of Textiles, Dress and Related Objects' in 1997, many textiles have been X-rayed to gain information about them. Quilts in particular have been singled out for analysis because of their multi-layered construction. This article discusses three 18th- and 19th-century quilts in the V&A’s collections, whose histories of making were revealed through X-radiography, as much as the materials they were made of.

Fig. 1
The examinations that form the basis of this article were prompted by the observation that a quilt to be featured in the exhibition Quilts 1700-2010, made from fabric printed for the celebration of King George III Golden Jubilee (fig. 1), had a different quilting pattern on the back of the quilt than that on the front. Close inspection of the edge of the quilt revealed four layers of textile - the present top, a previous quilt top, a mysterious secondary textile, and the original lining.


It is generally understood that a quilt is defined as two layers of fabric, sometimes with a layer of padding between, all sewn together so that the sewing threads pass through all layers. The sewing used to bind the layers together often forms decorative patterns. An X-ray is a picture of relative material density, with denser materials appearing white and voids or breaks appearing dark. Folded areas of fabric are denser and appear lighter on an X-ray. Patchwork is made from an arrangement of fabric pieces and the way that the fabric is sewn together is known as piecing. The technique of piecing over paper, which is found in many British quilts, involves folding fabric around a paper template, basting it in place with long stitches, and then joining the basted pieces together edge-to-edge with tiny whip-stitches. The basting stitches are then removed and the paper is either removed or retained inside the quilt for stiffness and warmth. 

Fig 2

Using an X-ray image it is possible to see that the individual tumbling block pieces in the inner border of the quilt are pieced over paper – with the seam allowance on either side of the seam, while the tumbling block section as a whole has been applied to the quilt top as a strip with the seam allowance folded to one side (fig. 2).
Yes, this is the kind of thing that I can geek out over.