At this time of year it seems to be the thing to look back at what happened during the year. I'm not much for that because I am more interested in what's going to happen next, but this year has been such a landmark one because of the long awaited quilt exhibition at the V&A. Oh how I looked forward to that because at last I would see it - the Sundial Coverlet, something I had read so much about and I had long wanted to see.
It was not a disappointment. I visited the exhibition four times and there was always a cluster of people around it, marvelling at the intricacy of the piecing and speculating about the time it must have taken. I just loved it and vowed that as soon as I had a window of opportunity I would make something based on those blocks. I have started and it is the most fun but the most difficult thing I have done in the whole of my quilting life.
If you want to have a closer look click on this link to a blog by Janet Bottomley who was invited to the press preview and allowed to take photos
Dated 1797, this coverlet must surely be one of the first sampler quilts? Of course we know very little of how the world of patchwork worked then. Did "MCB" draft these patterns herself? She may have done? I have found them so difficult to do and I have so many more aids to help me, but as her needlework skills are far superior to mine, so too may have been her skill at pattern drafting?
If not, was it possible that they were published patterns, perhaps in "The Lady's Magazine" which first appeared in 1770 and included all manner of things, fiction, fashion, crafts, so perhaps patchwork? This surely must be a fruitful area of research for someone, not me though, because drafting the patterns and piecing the blocks will keep me occupied for quite a while yet.
It doesn't end there, because in July I visited Helbeck Hall in Cumbria where Rosemary Blackett-Ord was exhibiting her collection of quilts and early patchwork. It was quite wonderful, in a way even better than the V&A exhibition, as it was held in her Regency Gothick manor house perched high on the Cumbrian fells.
The collection was personal and very varied and Mrs. Blackett-Ord was on hand to tell you all she knew about each item. However on an upstairs landing there was one patchwork coverlet that stopped me in my tracks. It was dated 1799 and was so similar in form and substance to the Sundial that it surely must have come from the same source. It wasn't as meticulously worked and not all of the most intricate blocks seen on the Sundial were included, but it was so similar one had to believe that it had come from the same stable. Sadly I can't show you a picture because taking photos was not allowed. However, I was not the only one to recognise the similarity, as my friend Lorie, who went on a different day, noted it too.
Does this mean that there were a number of coverlets of this type made and that these block patterns were generally available to avid 18th century patchworkers, just as we today buy sampler pattern books like "Dear Jane"? It is all very intriguing especially as there may be other similar quilts out there waiting to be discovered!