Raising The Bar: Historic Quilts on Display

The exhibition currently on display in our Fashion and Textile Gallery, titled ‘Quiltscapes & Quiltline’ shows an array of contemporary quilts by the artist Pauline Burbidge.  A number of historic quilts from The Bowes Museum’s collection were selected to accompany and compliment the works (see previous blog post).  The Museum has a fantastic collection of over 100 quilts, a number of which featured in the exhibition ‘North Country Quilts: Legend & Living Tradition’ in 2000.  Whittling it down was no easy task but the curators selected a range of old favourites and new acquisitions to bring colour and contrast to the Glass Cube study area in the centre of the gallery.

This pieced patchwork is new to the museum and particularly fine, it has local provenance having been fabricated by eleven Heighington WI members in 1935 and is made up of an astonishing ten thousand pieces of fabric, each lovingly hand-stitched together.

Left: Heighington Quilt Detail, Right: Stitching Velcro® in Progress
Quilt 3.61_BT_Attached Labels
Heighington  Quilt Original Labelling

All of the quilts selected for display required Velcro® for hanging.  The soft side of the Velcro® was machine stitched onto cotton tape then aligned along the upper edge of the quilt and hand stitched in place using polyester thread to take the weight of the piece when suspended mid-air.  A small proportion of the quilt selection required further conservation.  I was assigned the task of conserving a red and white cotton twill North Country quilt dated to 1880 which, on close inspection, had a number of small holes to the central portion and areas of abrasion to the red cotton edges.  I dyed six samples of nylon conservation net in a range of shades to attain the perfect matching hue and used this to overlay the numerous damaged areas of the quilt.

Dyeing nylon net – in progress

The edges of the net patches were lined up with the pre-existing quilting stitch lines so that my own securing stitches would not cut through the design.  Twenty-three hours, one head torch and many ‘long-and-short’ stitches later the treatment was complete and hanging could commence!

Quilt.2.18_IP_Stitching Net Patch Overlay
Stitching Nylon Net Patches in Progress
Pinning and Stitching Nylon Net Patches in Progress

The next logistical challenge was a three man job; the rolled quilts were bought down to the gallery one at a time, concertinaed onto a tissue-covered table and applied to one of the Velcro® covered ceiling batons lowered from the ceiling.  This took a bit of time and persistence to get the characteristically irregular hand-made quilts hanging straight and flat but patience and perseverance are tools of the trade and the end result was rather eye-catching if I do say so myself!  The quilts have been staggered to give a waterfall effect visible from three sides of the cube and can be individually lowered or raised for close inspection during study group visits.

Hanging quilts
Quilts hanging
Quilts hanging

Pauline Burbidge’s exhibition ‘Quiltscapes & Quiltline’ runs until 10th April 2016.

Jamie Robinson, Icon/HLF Textiles Conservation Intern

Icon HLF logo


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