Festival of Quilts, Birmingham - Text and Context: Quilts and the Written Word

  • Context by Sara Impey
  • Lilac Dress by Val Jackson
  • Jockey Cap Patchwork

This exhibition explores the use of the written word in historic and contemporary quilts from The Quilters’ Guild Museum Collection. In some pieces, text forms an integral part of the design, conveying a message or idea from the maker, or representing their thoughts, beliefs or simply their presence within a wider social and historical context. In other pieces the words are hidden within the central papers which are integral to its construction; away from the viewers’ gaze, but providing an interesting glimpse to the identity and life of the maker and the world that surrounded them when the patchwork was made.

‘Context’ (2005), by Sara Impey, is a contemporary quilt using the artists’ signature, text-based style, using words and language to provide visual design and deeper meaning. Subverting the assumption that textiles are always comfortable, domestic objects, this piece reminds us that words on their own - without ‘context’- don’t tell the whole story. An interesting coverlet made by students from the Cam Blue Coats charity school in 1874 shows how the outward display of religious devotion was an important consideration in this educational school project. A beautiful but unfinished piece of Jockey Cap mosaic patchwork from the late 19th century reveals the educational and social background of the maker through the paper templates used in its construction. Repeated handwritten lines of handwriting practise and small pieces of printed academic text demonstrate the immediate world surrounding the maker, and revealing a potential name of the needlewoman, for whose other details of her life have been lost over time.

This exhibition has been selected and curated by Contemporary Quilt Group, who celebrate their 20th anniversary this year. The pieces chosen for this exhibition echo some of the themes from works that feature in their special exhibition ‘Uncharted’.

Please note this exhibition of The Quilters' Guild Collection takes place at The Festival of Quilts, held at the N.E.C. in Birmingham, 18th - 21st August 2022.