Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – and Patched! Celebrates the craft of creating christening gowns and other textile heirlooms
June 26, 2015 - Nicky Hancock
Until 1 November 2015
The most photographed frock of the season will not be worn by a celebrity at Ascot or Wimbledon, but by Princess Charlotte at her christening which is due to take place on Sunday 5 July. A royal christening is an important occasion, and Princess Charlotte is likely to wear the gown that her brother was christened in: a copy of the original intricate lace and satin gown made for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria, Princess Royal, in 1841 and used for generation after generation of royal infants. In 2004 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth decided that the gown was past its prime and ordered an exact replica to be crafted. It was first worn by James, Viscount Severn, at his christening in 2008.
The American Museum in Britain is providing its visitors with a rare opportunity to see exquisite historical christening gowns and other treasured family heirlooms in its special exhibition, Hatched, Matched, Dispatched – & Patched!. The exhibition reflects how textiles are interwoven with the stories of people’s lives; the show runs until 1 November 2015.
Within the “Hatched” section there are a number of elaborately worked christening robes dating from 1850, quilted baby slippers, and bonnets. Gowns were designed to be full-length to help show off not only the wealth of the family, but also the exceptional embroidery. In addition to these finely worked pieces for baby to wear, the exhibition includes fine cot quilts drawn from the Museum’s extraordinary archive of quilts.
The Flying Geese Quilt, c.1855-1865 from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, was machine-pieced and hand-quilted by Ann Rebeccah Jeffries when her children were young, passed down to her daughter Mary, and then to her grand-daughter Suzanna (born in 1889). Curator Kate Hebert, said “We have photographs of three generations of women associated with this quilt, which is rare. This was obviously an important family piece.”
Another fine piece within the “Hatched” display is the silver and coral baby’s rattle, c.1740-1745, made in Philadelphia. This fine example, with bells and a whistle, was made by Richard Pitts, a skilled Colonial silversmith from Philadelphia. Kate Hebert commented that “this type of rattle was popular for many years dating back to Tudor times. A similar rattle is held by the baby in a lovely mother and child painting that we have in our American Folk Art Gallery”. The Romans believed that coral could protect children from danger, so rattles were a popular christening gift.
A whole-cloth cot quilt, dating from 1700-10 (Quilters Guild), is the earliest piece on display in the exhibition and is densely quilted by hand. The designs on the quilt include a mermaid and merman, a sailing ship, a castle, and several exotic animals including a lion and a camel. Other memorable pieces include the Welcome Little Stranger
Pin Cushion, a functional yet decorative gift. In Colonial New York, births were announced by hanging pincushions on door knockers.
This exhibition brings together extraordinary textile treasures that commemorate family milestones – births, marriages, and deaths. It features historic quilts as well as exquisite costumes and other treasures, many of which have been passed down from one generation to the next.
Throughout the Museum there are Period Rooms that illustrate how early Americans lived between the seventeenth and nineteenth century. The simple panelled Lee Room from New Hampshire, dated 1740, has a separate “borning” room that was used for childbirth or if a child was ill to separate them from the rest of the family.
For ticket prices and opening times, visit americanmuseum.org or Tel: 01225 460503.
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Tel. +44 (0)1225 332299
Date: 11 June 2015
Notes to editors:
Infant baptism or christening started sometime between the second and third century AD and, until the 1790s in Britain, babies were swaddled. The earliest object on display is from c.1700. By that time the seventeenth-century tradition of totally immersing a baby in holy water had changed, meaning that christening clothes no longer needed to be removed and replaced easily. In addition, physicians were discouraging people from binding their babies in swaddling because it restricted their development. Consequentially, christening clothes became more intricate and the ceremonies more elaborate.
The pattern of christening gowns did not significantly change during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and even today many people cherish family heirlooms or seek out a traditionally styled gown. In more recent times, however, gowns have become shorter as the fear of infant mortality has dissipated and children are often older (crawling or walking stages) when baptised. Childbirth may have changed over the centuries, but the tradition of a formal christening is still popular: the Church of England records 10,000 baby and infant christenings a month.
THE AMERICAN MUSEUM IN BRITAIN, located at Bath was established to inform visitors about the cultural history of the United States, strengthening the bond of understanding between the two nations. Thousands of decorative items are on display in a series of Period Rooms that tell the story of the history of the United States from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, including one of the finest collections of American quilts in the world. Set on 125 acres, the Museum has spectacular grounds with an outdoor terrace offering sweeping views across the Limpley Stoke Valley, designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Main Season 14 March – 1 November 2015, Tues – Sun, 12noon-5pm, Closed Mondays except during August and Bank Holidays
Admission, Museum, Exhibition and Gardens: Adults £10.00, Over 60’s & students £9.00, Children (5- 16 years) £5.50, Family ticket £27.50
Gardens only: Adults £6.00, Over 60’s & students £5.00, Children (5-16 years) £3.50
Gift Aid and Membership rates available
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