Collection Focus: Huswife

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We are so excited to be celebrating the 2021 Festival of Quilts this week with our exhibition ‘Quilts and their makers’, showcasing 10 historic quilts and 10 pieces from our contemporary works. In this show 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 charming mosaic patchwork huswife, sometimes called a Hussif or Housewife, is a wonderful example of the different domestic objects that used patchwork and quilting as decoration. Intended for the storage of sewing equipment, these useful holders contained multiple pockets to keep small items separate and were also handy for travelling as they could be rolled up and tied when in transit, keeping everything conveniently in place. This particular example is unusual for its decorative diamonds design, its embroidered dedication and the intended recipient of the piece. 

The mosaic patchwork diamonds have been pieced together from roller printed dress cottons from the 1840s and 1850s and edged with a vibrant blue silk which also decorates the pointed serrated edges of the pockets. The semi-circles of felted wool fabric intended for needle storage look like uniform material and show signs of moth damage at some point in the past. The fabrics are quite grubby and colours have faded, but certain areas that have been less exposed show the pinks and purples were originally much brighter.  

The cross-stitched dedication ‘By Sarah Iles for Edward Buckler 1856’ give us a maker, recipient and date, and tell us this was made as a gift, perhaps for a specific occasion. A location would have been useful (sadly not included), but initial research did yield a few speculative results. A male recipient is more unusual and could have indicated a profession where portable sewing kits were useful or standard issue such as a sailor or member of the armed forces. There was an Edward Buckler born in Poole, Dorset in 1822, who was awarded a Mate’s Certificate of Service in 1855 for 22 years in the Merchant Navy on both coastal and foreign trades. So far it hasn’t been possible to verify the relationship between Edward and Sarah Iles but she could have made this as a gift to commemorate his service around this time.  

 

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