Collection Focus: Mitred Patchwork

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We are looking forward to celebrating the 2021 Festival of Quilts by showcasing our forthcoming exhibition ‘Quilts and their makers’, taking 10 historic quilts and 10 pieces from our contemporary works. Newsletter readers can take a sneak peek in advance, as over the coming months we explore the variety and skill of our makers both past and present, and celebrate their creativity in a selection of the quilts which will be on display.

This fantastic mini-collection of objects all feature the mitred patchwork technique (also known as folded star); a style that uses folded rectangles to make triangles which are placed on a foundation fabric and overlapped to create various different completed designs. They were made by Margaret K. Wright, who literally wrote the book (published 1986) on this type of technique, and the samples in the Collection were used to illustrate her publication. The examples we have are varied and include small items such as greetings cards and boxes and larger items such as dresses and waistcoats where the patchwork is used both all over the garments or as one small decorative element. The two waistcoats are fully covered in the patchwork, the pink one featuring a zigzag design and the purple one using metallic and plain fabrics with a circular arrangement on the back. The small girls dress uses the technique to create a pretty zigzag neckline, and central front design.   

Margaret was born in York in 1929, and lived in Gibraltar as a child before moving to Leicester, where she attended Leicester Domestic Science College, gaining the City of Leicester Diploma in Institutional and Household Management. Her career began in cookery, and she became a Home Service Advisor for the East Midlands Gas Board, visiting homes to demonstrate how to use their recently purchased gas cooker. But her hobby was really in embroidery, and she gained City & Guilds in Intermediate and Advanced Embroidery with Honours from Loughborough College of Art. She went on to become a Lecturer and teacher at various Leicestershire schools, before moving to Northamptonshire in 1973 and continuing her teaching. She wrote four books on embroidery, fashion, design and technology and mitred patchwork and was a regular exhibitor at the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Embroiderers Guilds, as well as her works featuring in exhibitions in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral; York Minster; Leicester Guildhall, The Commonwealth Institute, Tokyo and Osaka in Japan and various other UK venues.  

This style of patchwork was newly developed at the time of this book’s publication, but this method and type of three dimensional patchwork has some similarities to Quill Patchwork, popular in the late 19th century, where the top corners of rectangle fabrics are folded down to the centre bottom edge to form a triangle, and the points are then folded in again to create an elongated pentagon – or quill – shape. This example from the 1880s resembles a rag rug in its appearance and texture.  

Quill patchwork piece, circa 1880, The Quilters’ Guild Museum Collection.

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