|Samuel Atwood, Army tailor|
Most of the quilts in the show come from the collection of quilt historian Annette Gero. These quilts, made during conflicts in Crimea, South Africa, India, Prussia, Austria and France, were intended to be hung on walls as art or used as table coverings rather than bedding. The wall card went on to explain, "The end use was less critical than the act of creation itself, either during a campaign or upon return to the safe harbor of home."
Many of the quilts were made from fabrics used in regular military and dress uniforms. Some were actually taken from the uniforms of fallen soldiers.
|Soldier's Quilt , probably India 1850-1880|
The quilt shown here was likely made during the British occupation of India during the mid-19th century. There apparently was not much going on militarily, so the soldiers had to find ways to productively spend their time. In an effort to keep the soldiers occupied, the British government offered industrial exhibitions and professional workshops at which the soldiers could learn skills like needlework.
|Detail from Soldier's quilt|
|Detail from a Crimean War Signature Quilt|
I was touched by the example of a Crimean War Signature Quilt. You can see how much simpler this quilt is than its Indian counterpart. But the thought of a soldier--far from home and risking his life for his country-- taking up a needle and some fabric to make a quilt for his sister just kind of gets to me.
The idea of passing time by making quilts didn't only come from the British government. The popular press during the era romanticized the practice of military quiltmaking with the sentimental image of the drummer boy.Temperance periodicals also played a role, as they promoted the idea of quiltmaking as a masculine activity in hopes of providing soldiers (and other men) with an alternative to the evils of drink.
Intarsia Quilt with Soldiers and Musicians,
I learned that Intarsia quilts often rely on copy prints as sources for their design. (Another quilt depicted the members of the House of Commons from 1860 and was displayed next to a photograph from which the quiltmaker worked. It was a truly amazing replica of the lawmakers.) It is believed this quilt was a tribute to King Frederick William III of Prussia with its centerpiece crest of the Prussian coat of arms.
|Detail from King George III Intarsia Quilt|
To learn more about this exhibit and see more (and better) images of these amazing quilts, click here to read a great article from a site called "Hypoallergic."