Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Patchwork Quilts in The National Archives

The word `quilt' derives from the Latin word cucita meaning a bolster or cushion, which in turn derives from the Classical Latin consuere meaning accustomed to, stitch or sew together. A quilt is traditionally a type of blanket made up of three layers, the top and bottom layers made of whole sheets of cloth with a middle layer of wadding. The layers are joined using ties, stitching and decorative embroidery. Records found in The National Archives (TNA) generally includes references to quilted bed covers, while other museums hold examples of quilted women's petticoats, babies' caps and men's waistcoats:

TNA LR 9/132, 1703, ‘Receipt of Richard Shedford for the cost of a bed, blankets and quilt purchased by Mr Soley. 


TNA PROB 11/580/334, 30 June 1721, ‘Will of Richard Morgan, Quilt Maker of Saint Olave Silver Street, City of London’.

TNA HO 47/22/9, 10 April 1798, ‘Report of J Adair on Elizabeth Taylor, convicted at the Denbigh Quarter Sessions, on 5 April 1796, for stealing a feather bed, blanket, quilt and other items, value 10/-, property of Mary David.

While references to quilting can been traced back to the Middle Ages, references to patchwork quilts do not appear in English or Welsh records until the eighteenth century. A patchwork quilt is a variant form of quilting in which paper patterns are used to cut different fabric shapes which are then pieced together to form the top layer.

One of the earliest known patchworks is the 1718 silk patchwork coverlet held in the Quilters’ Guild Collection. While quilting was considered a professional skill at this time, patchwork was a ladies’ leisure pursuit, using expensive silks and printed cottons which were cut from paper templates (another expensive commodity) following the mosaic patchwork method.

The Quilters’ Guild Collection - Detail from 1718 Silk Coverlet


Simpler and cheaper fabrics were used by the lower classes whose quilts had functional purposes, although the design and making of them acquired different cultural relevance across time and place.

Quilt V&A 1797 - maker unknown 


Patchwork was deemed a suitable activity for female convicts on board transport ships.The Lord Sidmouth was one of three convict ships carrying female prisoners from England and Scotland to New South Wales in 1822/23. As a result of T. Bensley’s 1821, ‘Third Report of the Committee of the Society For the Improvement of Prison Discipline ...’ a set of rules was recommended by the Ladies' Association for female prisoners at Newgate. These Rules were probably already in place by the time the Lord Sidmouth was ready to set sail in 1822, as demonstrated by the following extract from the journal of ship’s surgeon Robert Espie:

 7 September 1822 at Woolwich. Mrs Pryor came on board and completed all her arrangements having given each of the women a quantity of patchwork and other articles to employ them during the voyage. (TNA ADM 101/44/10, folio 6).


Extract from the Third Report of the Committee of the Society For the Improvement of Prison Discipline ...’


Possibly because of the scarcity of resources in the early settlements of North America and Australia, the ability to recycle old and scrap material into colourful quilts meant that quilting became, and still is, a popular art form in those countries.

 Melbourne, 2014


An exhibition of patchwork was even the subject of an anti-terrorist investigation in 1980. An entire file (TNA WORK 12/866) is given over to security issues raised when Kilkenny Design Workshops proposed mounting an Irish Patchwork Exhibition in the Fine Rooms of Somerset House, being one of 90 events planned to take place in London during February and March 1980 under the umbrella programme, ‘A Sense of Ireland’.



Now it's my turn - C18thGirl, 2015 - work in progress.








And if this has whetted your appetite to make a patchwork quilt, here’s how - courtesy of Angharad Jones …



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