10th August saw a happy Crea team at the annual Festival of Quilts in Birmingham – rightly billed as ‘Europe’s Ultimate Quilting Destination’. It was a completely inspiring event – whether your style preference is contemporary, classic, vintage, Japanese indigo, figurative, graphic or beyond – with magnificent displays from world-class textile artists through to accomplished 7-year-olds.
Among the highlights was the 1718 Challenge. This was a competition to make a replica of the 1718 Silk Patchwork Coverlet (169 x 185 cm) to mark its 300thbirthday. It’s the oldest patchwork coverlet in Britain, and the jewel in the historic quilt collection amassed over the years by the British Quilters’ Guild. Patchwork was an 18th-century passion as well as fashion, especially for middle- and upper-class ladies (including the skilled Jane Austen). Fabric fragments were hoarded and treasured, and cast-off dresses recycled into covers for chairs, screens, stools and cushions.
The 1718 coverlet is made of silk pieces gathered over 100 years or so, and is a complex but balanced design of 182 blocks. Many are graphic, featuring pets, birds, farm animals and flowers, and a male and female pair of figures above the central motif. The unknown maker, whose initials EH appear in the centre, stitched exquisitely, and followed a numbering system to keep track of the multi-faceted design. Given the motifs and the range of silks used, it is possible that she came from a well-to-do rural background, and the coverlet was certainly owned for generations by a farming family in Wiltshire.
The 20+ entrants to the replica challenge presented their own take on the original piece, either by replicating the design, or interpreting it anew. The winner was Denise Geach, who created a sumptuous patchwork in rich colours, signed with her initials in the same position as ‘EH’. In the words of Ana Baptiste, the show’s director, ‘Quilts are an art form and often breathtaking. The skill, vibrancy and creativity is extraordinary.’ Put the date in your diary for next year’s Fest!