V&A: Quilts 1700 – 2010 : A review.

I have a long list of cultural to dos before I leave London. All the things that I really should have done before now, but you know, when you live some where, you NEVER do the tourist thing.  Ever.

Yesterday I had a small IT hiccup at work and my computer had to be rebuilt over night, so I had the chance to sneak away early, and I decided to put this free time to excellent use. I hot footed over to the V&A on the off chance that I could squeeze into the exhibition.

A little eye lash fluttering later I had a good wander around in the last hour before closing.

First impressions. Honestly? I was really rather disappointed. I had been looking forward to this exhibition since I received my V&A What’s On Guide back in December.

The quilts were displayed in a mixture of ways, some hung against the walls others were laid over plinths the size and shape of a bed. In each case there is a rope around the display to keep sticky hands away (obviously) but I found the roped off bed displays really hard to see. I wanted to have a good look at the construction and stitching and fabric details, but simply couldn’t see clearly enough. The wall hung examples were excellent though.

I really liked the simple film which ran on a loop which examines the journeys of a pin, and all the hands that hold them over time (also made me think of Stanley in Going Postal) but I got the distinct sense from some of the other visitors that they weren’t impressed with it.

The Durham Quilts were displayed and lit very well, though I would have liked more information on the ‘Stamping Process’ in which the pattern to be stitched is marked onto the fabric. I guess that is on the Audio Guide. I hadn’t realised that there was one until I was well into the exhibition.

I was very disappointed in the modern quilting section. The Grayson Perry Right To Life quilt is beautifully made, but I just didn’t get it. Is he pro abortion or anti? I just couldn’t work it out.

I really wanted to like Tracy Emin’s bed and quilt, as I do like rather a lot of her other work, but this just really left me, well I guess disenchanted. I have heard so much about it in the press and media, and all I could think was that it belittled all the quilts seen earlier in the exhibition. It looked sloppy and hashed together, the appliqué was rough and child like. Now I realise that this is probably the point, but to included in with quilts made by men and women who took in one case in particular years of dedicated stitching to produce amazing pieces of work seemed to me, insulting.

However, there was for me, one quilt which was just wonderful and I am very please to have seen it. It was commissioned by the V&A, and made by inmates at HMP Wandsworth. Each piece represented a prisoners’ view, be it the literal view from their cell window or a more figurative view of their desires. This quilt told a story and I would gladly go back to the exhibition just to see it.

So, why was I so disappointed? I think the answer lies in a recent trip home. My parents live less than five minuets walk from the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle. The Bowes Museum is one of the best fine art museums in the country outside London. They have recently revamped and reopened the textile galleries which I visited about four weeks ago with my Mum. The new galleries are breath taking. The displays are so well lit, it is possible to walk almost 360` around each exhibit. And the quilts are just so stunningly displayed.

The V&A’s exhibition was good and I am pleased that I went, but the Bowes Museums new textile galleries beats it hands down.

There were some interesting pieces in the shop, but nothing amazing. The Liberty fabrics which have been produced for the exhibition are lovely, and I was very tempted but resisted in favour of some Anna Marie Horner voile which I am going to order shortly, so I can make this.

The shop was selling six fat quaters in a bundle for £25 or the very same fat quaters individually for £3.50.  Now my maths isn’t great, but 6 x 3.50 isn’t £25!  So my top tip, if you really do want to buy the fabric, don’t buy it in a bundle.

Image: V&A Muesum ‘At the End of the Day’, hanging, Natasha Kerr, 2007.

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