Sunday, 14 June 2009

Forge Mill Needle Museum

On Friday, a group of members of my patchwork group, Piecemakers, went on a day out to the Forge Mill Needle Museum in Redditch to see the exhibition 'Quilting Yarns'. This was a display of part of Jane Cobbett's collection of old quilts, ranging from 1860 to the 1950s. Here is the old mill which looks idyllic now, but must have been a very unpleasant place to work. We looked round the museum itself, which included a recreation of a Victorian needle factory, and were astounded to find there were 30 different processes to making a simple needle. The most skilled job was pointing the needle, which earned a man a guinea a week (that's one pound and one shilling in old money) but the dust from the grindstone gave him silicosis, and reduced his life expectancy to 30 years! That's if pieces of flying needle hadn't already blinded him, of course! The exhibition wasn't large, but gave us the opportunity to examine every quilt in great detail, which was a bonus.

This was the oldest piece on display, a coverlet dating from about 1860. Not withstanding the facts that the hexagons were only three quarters of an inch in width and made of silk, the most remarkable thing about this quilt is that it was made by a 9 year old boy!

This close up gives you a better idea of the colours. We wondered why he had made it, and thought it must have been because he was an invalid. What mental stamina he must have had, though, to complete such a difficult task so well!

I was very grateful to the museum for allowing me to take photos, but have to say that the lighting wasn't always very helpful, as in this case. This is the Beaver Quilt, which was made at the Portland Union Church in St John, Canada, and sent to the Beaver Club in London during WW2. It is a signature quilt where the names have been written and then embroidered on top

These quilts were generally fundraisers, and people would have paid to have their names included. Quite why it was sent to England is unclear, but it was in very good condition, and must be a treasure for Canadian social historians.


This is a Civil War quilt, made by Susan Olivia Dixon, who was a young lady in 1865. It is a sawtooth variation and was made in Greenville County, North Carolina. This is a perfect exmple of a scrap quilt, as many of the blocks have been made with the same fabrics, but as Susan ran out of those fabrics, she substituted similar ones to make this beautiful and interesting effect.

This quilt was a bit of a surprise, as it looks very modern. It is made from pieces of fabric cut from Indian tunics and saris (you can see the neck shapes on many of the pieces) appliqued onto a calico foundation and then dyed yellow. The different fabrics have taken the dye to different degrees and made a harmonious collection. It was undated.

This Pink Hawaiian quilt was made in the 1930s. The applique was done by hand, but the borders were sewn by machine. We admired the lady's stamina in making so many identical blocks, and then felt for her, when we realised she had started to outline quilt it, but only completed 3 blocks in the bottom row. She'd finally got sick of the whole thing! What a shame, because it's a lovely quilt.

This cheerful coverlet is a completed UFO. It is called Star Garden and consists of these star blocks made from fabrics from several mid 20th century decades. The stars have later been sashed in blue and the top was backed and completed by Dora Lowe in the 1950s. Well done Dora!This top was made in Norwich, England between 1910-1930. It is called Postage Stamp Diamonds because of the very small pieces used. Doesn't it look pretty?

The exhibition was well worth our journey, and I can recommend the museum too. There is a nice picnic area with children's playground, making it suitable for a family day out. This exhibition finishes on June 28th, so go if you can. If you can't go but would like to look at more of the quilts (and the museum), I have posted photos on our group blog here for you to see. Enjoy!

5 comments:

loulee said...

Thank you for sharing pictures of the quilts and their info, it's interesting stuff.

Notjustnat said...

Thanks for sharing this great story of the quilts. I would have love to see them myself. I love old quilts and their stories

Kathie said...

great stories and AMAZING quilts
oh the hexagon one I could look at for hours all those fabrics
did you stand there and study it!
Kathie who really appreciates you posting about these
thanks.

Sew Create It - Jane said...

Sounds like you had a good day out :o)

Jane Cobbett said...

Hi,
This was only a part of the collection, it's hard to find any where big enough to display them all, but the other half and some of the best ones will be on display over the summer at
The Quilt Association

http://www.quilt.org.uk/summer2009.html

Hope to see some of you there.

Jane