Mad For It

Yesterday I went with two friends to the Quilts 1700-2010 exhibition and the Grace Kelly, Style Icon exhibition – both at the Victoria and Albert museum in Kensington, London*. For those of you who don’t know this area it is crammed – literally crammed – with museums. I had to walk past the Natural History Museum, below, to get to where I needed to be. Look at that sky!

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

With sunshine like that, it was only right and proper that I should disappear indoors!

The quilting exhibition is a display of British quilting, from the 18th century to today. My preconceptions were challenged. There was an 1856 portrait of a soldier quilting as part of his recuperation. Pah! I thought. You’d never get a man doing that today. Then I turned a corner and came upon the most moving exhibit of all: a quilt recently completed by male inmates of Wandsworth Prison. There were video diaries from the prison quilters in their cells and, I have to say, even glimpsing the bottles of water hung out of barred windows to keep them cool made me feel claustrophobic and guilty. Why guilty? All the way through the exhibition I’d been shaking my head thinking, How does someone have the patience to do all this? Well, in prison you are deprived of many things, but patience? You can find a lot of that.

Interestingly, I found myself scuttling past the contemporary quilts, made in my lifetime. Each contributor had a panel to explain the motivation behind her ‘work of art’. Yes, telling that last phrase, isn’t it? I didn’t want an explanation – the anonymous quilters of hundreds of years ago are long dead and can’t tell me what their motivation was. They probably didn’t have one, other than to keep warm with the only scraps of fabric available.

The Grace Kelly exhibition was much buzzier and pretty cramped. There were some lovely dresses to look at (though I still can’t forgive the 1970s for some of its fashions). The first dress on show was from a sewing pattern! McCalls 3100 from their 1955 Spring pattern book. Can you believe it? Want something else to blow your head? You can still buy that pattern here. Say what you like about internet shopping but, my goodness, it opens up a world of opportunities, doesn’t it?

My favourite piece was a YSL printed silk shirt dress. So understated, so classic. Later in the general exhibition of fashion history, I spotted a Jacques Heim 1959 evening dress with a metal zip unashamedly on show. I thought all the recent bloggers preferring lapped zips over invisible zips would be very pleased to have seen that! For expert guidance and musings on lapped zips, see this wonderful post by The Cupcake Goddess.

The shop at the V&A is a shrine to gorgeosity. Really, it should be made illegal. I was so proud when I managed to walk through the main shop without buying a single thing. I must be getting mature in my old age, I congratulated myself. Pride comes before a fall. I arrived at the second shop, attached to the quilting exhibition. You know, the one where they have the limited edition printed cottons? In five minutes flat I had picked out and paid for these:

I couldn’t call it shopping. It was more like a hypnotic trance. I emerged blinking and unsteady on my feet, muttering, ‘What just happened?’. I clutched a bag to my chest. My friends smiled. Nodded their heads. They always knew this would happen. (And in my defence, one friend bought three of those metre pacakages of fabric.)

My fabric is called ‘Seed Head’ and is based on a design taken from a patchwork coverlet made in England, 1802-1830. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make with it, only a metre after all, but then remembered my pattern for the Amy Butler Swing Bag. I have some darling fabrics that would make the inner lining. Mmmm….

Must. Make. Bag…

That trance is taking hold again.

* For other blog reviews of these exhibitions pop by Tilly and the Buttons and Fehr Trade. We’re all mad for it in London! Tilly and I even photographed the same set of buttons:

This is why the V&A shop should be made illegal.

V&A buttons

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4 Responses to Mad For It

  1. Susannah says:

    I know that trance! That’s why I always have to take a list with me to the fabric shop — otherwise I emerge blinking into the sunshine, staggering under an armful of fabric cuts and not sure what just happened.

    Can’t wait to see the quilts myself!

  2. Tilly says:

    Hahaha that shop is a killer! Sent me into a panic!

  3. Debby says:

    I’m envious you were able to see the Grace Kelly exhibition. I wonder if it will travel to the U.S.? I was able to see her wedding dress at the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few years ago, and it was stunning. Lucky you!

  4. Sadly, the wedding dress wasn’t part of the exhibition. I’d have enjoyed seeing that.

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