Above left: 10 Years Celebration Quilt by Stella Hough
Above right: Shades of the Sargasso Sea by Gwenfai Rees Griffiths
 
 
Back in 1995 Llanidloes Museum held a summer show of antique quilts where at the time Doreen Gough, a keen quilter and embroider, was working. The quilts displayed belonged to Canadian Ron Simpson who at the time was living in the UK. Although his collection of antique quilts started in Canada whilst he was involved in theatrical work many of the quilts were Welsh, most likely either taken over or made by Welsh immigrants to the New World, and so were of local interest.
 

Military quilt, c1830. Quilt believed to be made by a convalescing Welsh soldier; the Association is currently raising funds for its restoration

An Association is formed

Following the successful exhibition at the museum there was enthusiasm to set up a quilt centre in Wales to represent what was felt at the time to be an unappreciated facet of Welsh heritage. And so a small group of friends, of whom Doreen was one, formed The Quilt Association. The Quilt Association was registered as a charity in 1996 and its primary aim was to raise funds for a permanent home for a collection of Welsh antique quilts – the Welsh Heritage Collection. The Association decided to hold another summer exhibition in 1996 with the dual role of raising awareness of Wales’s quilting heritage and to generate funds and this has become an established annual event. Without a permanent base the Association had to rent space in which to hold the show. From 1996 to 1998 they were able to rent a former car sales and servicing centre in Llanidloes for the six weeks required each summer, which provided two large flexible galleries. However, this arrangement was in jeopardy when, in 1998, the venue was put up for sale by the landlord. This caused concern locally because the town was gaining a reputation for arts events of which The Quilt Association’s show was an integral part, attracting much needed tourist revenue to the area. Fortunately by dint of hard work and much support the Association was able to secure funds from many organisations, including the Arts Council of Wales and Powys County Council, to purchase the showrooms and to employ a small part-time staff to run it.

Antipodean Memoirs by Judy Evans

Consolidation

Having acquired a permanent home – the Minerva Arts Centre – the Association has been able to consolidate on its aims of building up and preserving its collection of quilts, which date from 1760 and cover most styles and techniques specific to Wales, and to promote an interest in patchwork, quilting and other related textile crafts. Most of the quilts in the Association’s collection have been donated although some historically significant examples have been purchased. However, good quilts are becoming scarce and provenance can be poor.

Celebrations 2004 by Bethan Ash
 
A dilemma faced in the preservation of old quilts is whether to restore or conserve. The latter is preferable but costly restoration must sometimes be carried out and it is the condition of the quilt rather than its significance that will determine which course of action is followed. Either way, the quilts need to be stored under controlled conditions. The quilts in the collection are packed into boxes lined with acid-free tissue and then stacked on a flood-protected shelving system in a storeroom in which the atmosphere is controlled by a dehumidifying unit. Whilst the Association recognises that the conditions are not ideal they are the best that can currently be provided, and the major risks associated with textile degradation, i.e. light and damp, are addressed. The Association is currently cataloguing their collection so that in future the quilts can be accessed for research.

10 Love Spoons by Dilys Fronks

Summer fun and funds

The annual summer exhibition is the major source of funds for the Association. From 1995 to 1999 the quilts displayed were antique ones from Ron Simpson’s private collection, with each year having a different theme. In 2000 Ron collaborated with another collector of antique Welsh quilts, Jen Jones, to showcase their best pieces. However, following that exhibition Ron decided to move on to make his vast collection of quilts available to a wider audience; they have since been seen at, for example, the Shipley Art Gallery, shows in Japan and in 2004 at The Festival of Quilts. For 2001, in addition to quilts from the collection, Quilt Association members approached locals known to have old family quilts to see if they would be prepared to show them in the summer exhibition. Many people were more than happy to loan their quilts and some were also able to provide fascinating details about them that were also displayed. This mix of old quilts from the Association’s on own collection and from others, plus photographs and other memories, continues. Also in a departure from previous exhibitions, in 2001 it was decided to invite contemporary quiltmakers to take part and since then the summer show has been a 50/50 split of old and new quilts. The theme for the next year’s show is planned pretty much as soon the previous one ends with contemporary makers invited to take part in around November. Many contemporary participants have been kind enough to donate a piece of their work to the Association. As well as the quilts displayed the Association promotes its work over the summer period by holding demonstrations and talks. A sales area of books, fabrics and threads also helps to raise money.

Cotton Log Cabin quilt, c1900. Made in Staylittle, near Llanidloes. Loaned to the Association by Mrs Hamer, the maker’s daughters
 
Throughout the year letting space out to local textile groups such as the local quilting group the Welsh Heritage Quilters and the local Embroiders’ Guild group – many of whose members act as voluntary stewards during the summer exhibition – also raises much needed funds. Hosting exhibitions and events for other groups, e.g. for weavers, spinners and dyers, also helps the Association generate income to fulfil its role of caring for its collection.
 
Finally, membership of the Association provides further revenue. Most members join at the summer exhibition but you can join by post (see below) and enjoy free entry to the annual show this summer.

To the future

The Quilt Association does a great job in acquiring and preserving Welsh antique quilts and informing the public about this aspect of the Principality’s heritage. But the Association does so much more than caring for the past. By including high quality work by well-known contemporary quiltmakers along with other stitched textiles, for example work by the respected group Fibre Art Wales, in its summer exhibition the Association does much to promote today’s work of this often overlooked craft/art form. The summer exhibitions are a real treat and I would encourage anyone make a date in their diary to visit this year’s show in this beautiful part of Mid-Wales.
  1. For more information on joining The Quilt Association visit www.quilt.org.uk or write to Minerva Arts Centre, High Street, Llanidloes, Powys SY18 6BY
  2. To plan your trip visit www.llanidloes.com or www.exploremidwales.com

First published in Popular Patchwork April 2005