Ann West's Patchwork
TEXTILES • VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM
A beautiful 19th-century patchwork, designed by Ann West.
“When this patchwork came to light about a decade ago, brought to an auctioneer in Bermondsey, south London, where it was unrolled from the flannelette sheet and bin bag protecting it, every person in the room stopped what they were doing and stared.” begins Lucy Davies on her review on Ann West’s patchwork.
This extraordinary bedcover, or wall tapestry, has 64 woollen panels made from offcuts of coats and military uniforms, decorated with tiny pictures, showcasing different stories and characters made from scraps of fabric and embroidered details.
This type of patchwork creation has a domestic history. Many of the English quilted items had their own use back in the day. While some were made to mark specific life occasions like a birth or a wedding, some were made by necessity. In the 19th century, military quilts started to be popular, sewn by male soldiers.
That’s why Ann May’s choice of fabrics is unusual for a woman. The patchwork also stands out through the expert needleworker’s aesthetics, keen eye, storytelling and humour. The quilt is centred around the biblical scene of Adam naming the animals in the Garden of Eden. Around this scene, many different stories are reflected, with characters that reveal the social mix of a town in early 19th-century England.
If you look closely, you can spot the story of David and Goliath, the offering of Isaac, and people from every class: a fishwife and donkey carrying her wares, a distressed widow, military figures, gypsies, a wounded sailor, milkmaids, a well-dressed sportsman... All stories and characters are depicted like in a children’s book; somehow the patchwork gives you a happy feeling, even though not all the events she presents are happy. This feeling suggests that maybe Ann May created this patchwork to teach children life lessons while telling stories.
But who is Ann May? We don’t know her exact identity still, as we only know it was made by an Ann West – we know because she signed her precious work twice. She has embroidered ‘Forget me not’ and ‘Remember me’ among the delicate imagery, suggesting Ann West wished to be recognised and remembered as the creator of the patchwork.
Perhaps she is hiding somewhere among the figures.