The Brontë Challenge invited Yorkshire quilters to make a small quilt reflecting this quote from Jane Eyre:
“A certain little drawer, full of splendid shreds of silk and satin”
I challenged myself to only use both natural materials (silk, cotton and wool), and to only use items I already had in “my drawers”.
My circular quilt, reflects the turning of time and includes vintage silk tie ends, reflecting the romantic genre of Bronte’s novels. As I sewed, I wondered “who has worn these silk ties, and what are their stories?”
For the centre I used some hand pieced hexagons, I had been passed on by my friend Di, representing friendship, also a main theme in Brontë novels. Di had made these almost 50 years ago.
I used some cotton cream damask from my fabric stash for the base of my quilt front and up-cycled 2 layers of a “fulled” woollen jumper as the centre batting.
I also took some design inspiration from a patchwork quilt worked on by the Brontë sisters and their Aunt Branwell. This patchwork quilt remains unfinished but is double bed size. It is clear from Charlotte’s letters, sewing was not her favourite activity, but then it was more of an expected, rather than chosen, feminine activity in the 1800s and as a governess she was given lots of mending to do.
Measuring 187cm x 214cm, the quilt consists of silks, taffetas, velvets and cotton and has a calico backing. It has been hand-sewn and the stitches are neat and even. In some places, the quilt has faded and it is possible to see backing papers, such as newspaper, which was common practice in quilt-making at the time. The Brontës also appear to have used fragments of old letters as paper templates.
The quilt is unfinished and was passed on to the family of Martha Brown, the Brontë family’s servant. The Brontë Society purchased the quilt in 1924.
Over 50 small quilts, made to an even smaller than the usual “lap quilt” size specification I like to make, were submitted and are now hung as part of the exhibition. Mine was the only circular quilt, and my viewers choice vote goes to number 11, a more unusual collection of miniature pieces.
You can see my photo showing more detail on my Facebook page.
A few Sheffield Quilters made a new version of the Brontë quilt that is also in the Bankfield exhibition, alongside the original quilt.
This new quilt is named “Resurgam”, the latin for “I will rise again”, which is inscribed on the headstone of the character helen Burns in Charlotte bronte’s novel Jane Eyre.
Resurgam is designed by my friend and fellow Sheffield quilter Sarah Williamson in memory of her father, Sir Raymond Potter, of Halifax, who was born on April 21st 1916 exactly 100 years after Charlotte. I had enjoyed a sneak preview of the quilt at Sarah’s home earlier this year, and was especially impressed by the way Sarah had reproduced the idea of printed paper pieces showing through the worn almost 200 year old quilt. She printed onto fabric, and used some of that in the piecing of the recent quilt. You can read more about Sarah’s involvement in the May Popular Patchwork magazine.
I was invited to the opening of the exhibition on Wednesday evening taking my almost 90 year old mother in law as my guest. We thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Brontë bicentenary celebrations, seeing all the different interpretations and skill demonstrated in the quilt challenge.
Here are some that stood out to me:
I met the novelist Tracy Chevalier who presented the exhibition and whom developed a love of quilting during her research for her novel The Last Runaway whose heroine, Honor Bright, makes pieced patchwork quilts. Tracy has a quilt included in the Bankfield Museum exhibition.
You can read more about Tracy Chevalier and her quilting research for writing:
Readers of my previous posts, will know I have been reading Jennifer Chiaverini quilting based novels, and recently my friend Shirley and I got confused discussing our reading, wondering if we had been reading the same book. But no, I had been reading Chiaverini’s novel The Runaway Quilt
and Shirley Chevalier’s novel The Last Runaway
Both novels involve quilting and the Underground Railroad for escaping slaves, which explains our confusion!
Tracy shares her love of Jane Eyre: “Jane is the voice of the disenfranchised, speaking out while maintaining her dignity and ultimately triumphing. It was only on rereading Jane Eyre last year that I recognised something of my own heroine Griet in Girl With a Pearl Earring; she too comes from nothing and quietly stands her ground. This is a common enough trope in writing now, but it was groundbreaking when Jane Eyre was published to instant acclaim in 1847”.
You can read more in the telegraph article
If you would like to see these quilts, Splendid Shreds of Silk & Satin: A Celebration of Charlotte Brontë in Quilts is at the Bankfield Museum, Akroyd Park, Boothtown Rd, Halifax HX3 6HG. Open Tue – Sat:10:00-16:00 until 11 Jun 2016. Details
The quilts will also be displayed at the International Festival of Quilts 11 – 14 August 2016 at the Birmingham NEC. More details.
If you get to visit either of the exhibitions, I would love to hear your thoughts.