Past Exhibition: 14 March – 1 November 2015
Bursting with textile treasures, this exhibition brought together astonishing objects that commemorate family milestones. As well as featuring historic quilts from major collections, the exhibition also showcased superb costumes.
Everyone has their own way of perusing the newspaper. Some readers will turn immediately to the sports pages or television listings, while others will choose to look first at the Births, Marriages, and Deaths section, also known in popular parlance as ‘hatched, matched, and dispatched’. Formal naming ceremonies, public pledges of union, and rituals of communal mourning are witnessed and shared by diverse communities throughout the world. This exhibition showcased a wealth of textile treasures that commemorate these milestones.
Stitched memories on display included finely detailed quilts made in response to a marriage, birth, or death. Some of the mourning quilts displayed dated from the American Civil War. Two of these came from New Jersey: a Darts of Death or Widow’s Quilt (a striking arrangement in black and white), and an Album Quilt Top featuring a formidable Lady Liberty bearing the Union flag.
Another textile treasure on display with a wartime connection was a tablecloth from 1945, embroidered with the names of friends and colleagues of an American soldier who took part in the D-Day landings. His British fiancée stopped embroidering the cloth when she heard that he had died in combat. The stitched decoration remains unfinished, the needle still pinned to the cloth.
The exhibition also focused on what was traditionally worn to mark these family milestones. Mourning garments, heavily beaded with jet, contrast with bridal gowns from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as christening robes crafted from cascades of handmade broderie anglaise lace. One of the costumes featured in the exhibition was the wedding dress worn in 1887 by Agnes Lucy Hughes, the first mother-in-law of Wallis Simpson – the American socialite who almost brought down the British monarchy.
The exhibition burst with exquisitely worked textile treasures on loan from major historic collections throughout Britain. Exhibition partners include Beamish Museum, Jersey Museum and Art Gallery, the Quilters’ Guild, and the Jen Jones Collection.