Prisoners and precise geometry in two new exhibitions at The Quilt Museum and Gallery, York

now until 9 May 2015

A bird’s eye view of the inside of a prison cell, a Stella McCartney commission and a mind-boggling masterclass in early 19th century geometry are just some of the stunning works of art featured in two new exhibitions at The Quilt Museum and Gallery in York – Voices from the Inside and All Shapes and Sizes, on show now until 9 May 2015.

In a national first, Voices from The Inside showcases a thought-provoking collection of quilts hand stitched by prisoners, and offers a unique insight into craftsmanship and life behind bars in British prisons. Pieces range from a touching Help for Heroes tribute to service personnel killed in action, a prestigious commission for Stella McCartney’s private collection, and a memory quilt made from a much-missed husband’s treasured silk tie collection. However, it is perhaps the intimately detailed life-size floor plan of a two-man cell that speaks volumes about the reality of prison and the surroundings in which these quilts were made.

The prisoners have been trained by Fine Cell Work, a registered charity which teaches and pays prison inmates to do craft work in their cells and rehabilitates them through productive, creative activity and the chance of saving a nest egg for use on their release.  They have been selling their work successfully for some years now including, most recently, a pop-up shop in Fortnum and Mason but this is their first solo show.

“Voices from the Inside is a tribute to what can be achieved in the austerity of prison and a strong reminder to us of the power of stitch and its positive impact on our wellbeing. Fine Cell Work is an inspiring charity and we are delighted to be working with them on their first-ever exhibition here with us in York,” said Shirley Collier, museum manager.

All Shapes and Sizes celebrates the design and draughtsmanship skills of quilters through the ages with a stunning collection that illustrates what can be achieved through complex tessellation, from an unusual 1960s patchwork bikini to The Billings Coverlet (1805-1810) - a Tour de Force of geometry with each of its 15 frames executed precisely and displaying very small and difficult piecing. Equally impressive is the Concentric Row Hexagon Top (1880-89) which incorporates over 2000 hexagons and is a real testament to the patience, fortitude and needlework skills of yesterday’s quilt makers.

Some of the pieces were made for specific occasions – for example a grandson’s wedding present – and some feature fabrics with a story – one includes fabric which the maker had bought to make a costume for a fancy dress party, to which she went as a deckchair!  Most were made by women who, because of social norms, had little access to education in maths, which is itself something of a pre-requisite for dealing with complex shapes.  The quilts are therefore also testimony to the skill of women across the social hierarchy.

All Shapes and Sizes consists of 23 pieces from The Quilt Guild’s Historic Collection, which spans over two centuries of quilt making.

“It’s quite staggering to think that many of these quilts were pieced by makers who most certainly would not have had access to the tools and knowledge that today’s quilters take for granted. How they achieved such precision with limited resources baffles quilt enthusiasts and is a topic of much debate. If only quilts could talk,” commented Heather Audin, museum curator.

For more information visit The Quilt Museum and Gallery website

The Quilt Museum and Gallery is open* Monday to Saturday, 10am–4pm. Closed Sundays. (*Please note, the museum closes during exhibition changeovers so visit the website or phone 01904 613 242 to check opening times.)

Admission charges: adult £6.00, concession £5.00, children free (must be accompanied by an adult). Quilters’ Guild members £3.00. Discounted rates for pre-booked groups of 10 or more people – please call 01904 613242 for more details.

The Quilt Museum and Gallery is based at St Anthony’s Hall, Peasholme Green, York, England YO1 7PW. Tel: 01904 613 242.


Notes to Editors

The Quilt Museum and Gallery is Britain's first museum dedicated to quilt making and textile arts.

The Museum is managed by The Quilters' Guild of the British Isles, an educational charity founded in 1979. Their aim is to promote the crafts of patchwork, appliqué and quilting through changing exhibitions of historic and contemporary textiles. The Quilt Museum and Gallery is independently funded through admissions, grants and donations.

Since its formation in 1979, The Quilters' 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.

For more media information and hi-res images please contact:

Shirley Collier

Museum Manager

The Quilt Museum and Gallery

St Anthony's Hall, Peasholme Green, York, YO1 7PW

Tel: 01904 613242