The history of The Quilters' Guild Collection

Published: Wednesday, 8th November 2017 13:50 PM

The history of The Quilters' Guild Collection

The Quilters’ Guild was formed in 1979 and is a membership organisation and an educational charity, which aims to promote quilt making and encourage the appreciation, knowledge and understanding of our craft and quilting heritage.

Since its formation, The Guild has built up a unique collection of antique and contemporary quilts from around the British Isles. The Collection has grown due to both donations and acquisitions and now numbers over 800 items, from the earliest known dated British patchwork - the 1718 Silk Patchwork Coverlet - to recent pieces by contemporary quilt makers. As well as full size quilts and coverlets, the Collection includes miniature pieces, quilted clothing, small domestic items, templates, tools and quilting equipment.

In the first few years of the Guild a number of quilts and items of clothing were donated to form a small collection, which was used as study material for members. The first donation to the Collection was the House Blocks Quilt, 1979; a block based piece made by members of The Quilt Circle, a group consisting of influential quilters and teachers such as Deidre and Jean Amsden. The blocks were made, raffled and won by Jean, who then made them into the quilt and donated it to The Quilters’ Guild.

Other early donations include two beautiful Claridges Quilts - part of a large order of hand quilted items commissioned by The Claridges Hotel for their newly refurbished Art Deco Wing in the 1920s. These quilts were made under the Rural Industries Bureau, who worked to ensure traditional crafts such as quilting were kept alive and the skills passed on to the next generation in a time when the craft was in danger of dying out.

From its’ early years, the growth of the collection was slow and steady, with just 18 items being added up to the mid-1980s. However, a large growth spurt occurred from the mid-1990s, most likely encouraged by a raise in profile for The Guild and quilting heritage in general by the publication of Quilt Treasures, which was the collated and published outcome of an extensive documentation project conducted by The Guild in the early 1990s. The Quilters’ Guild became known for the dedicated study of patchwork, quilting and applique, and due to the geographical remit of the organization the Collection could accept pieces made from across the British Isles.

In the early days the quilts were stored in member’s houses, but as the collection grew, the need for a central repository became apparent, and a premises at Dean Clough in Halifax was found. The Guild achieved museum registration for the Collection in 2001, a scheme which later became known as Accreditation. This is a set of standards that ensures Collections are properly cared for and administered, to preserve historic and contemporary objects and provide access for the benefit of all members of the public.

In 2008, the Collection moved to St. Anthony’s Hall with the opening of the Quilt Museum and Gallery - England’s only dedicated museum to Patchwork and Quilting. From 2008 to the end of this year we acquired 162 pieces - which accounts for nearly 20% of our current total collection. We are fortunate to have a strength in many areas of patchwork and quilting history including the beautiful printed cotton mosaic patchworks of the early 1800s; the rich velvet and silk patchworks of high Victorian splendor; the regionally variant and skillfully hand quilted Wholecloth pieces and Contemporary works by quilt artists that represent the crafts being produced today.

The Quilters' Guild Collection is currently ‘working towards’ Accreditation under the Arts Council of England's Accreditation Scheme and still meets all standards of conservation, care and documentation.

Claridges Quilt, 1930sClaridges Quilt, 1930s

Early 19th century mosaic patchworkEarly 19th century mosaic patchwork

A piece of High Victorian splendor in silks and velvetsA piece of High Victorian splendor in silks and velvets

North Country Wholecloth, c.1900North Country Wholecloth, c.1900