Following the success of the workshops in Alton and Winchester, we held a similar drop-in sewing workshop here at the museum. ‘Stories in Stitches,’ took place on Saturday 5th August in the Learning Centre, and I confess I underestimated the enthusiasm there would be! I have never seen the Learning Centre so busy, and from an educational perspective, it has been fascinating to watch the sewing workshops take place. Sewing slows people down, they sit, stitch and chat and take the time to be involved in a way that other drop-in activities don’t always encourage you to do.
After an almost torrential downpour of rain, the workshop came to an end and we were left with over thirty hand-stitched squares. We have been overwhelmed by the interest and enthusiasm from local stitchers, who over the last few months have been sending me envelopes and packages filled with English paper pieces. Liz and I have decided to create a second quilt, smaller than the community story quilt which eventually will go on display in the museum on the bed in the Admiral’s room, adjacent to the original coverlet. A contemporary nod to the original.
And as the Summer evenings began to draw to a close, Sue Dell kindly offered to deliver her hugely informative talk on the original Austen Coverlet, drawing upon her years of research and investigation. It was a slightly damp evening, not quite the Summers end I was hoping for, but 40 people arrived and began the evening with drinks served in the house kitchen and a wander round the garden.
I don’t tire of listening to Sue’s talk, I learn something new about the coverlet every time I hear it, indeed I learnt why it is a coverlet not a quilt, and it always makes me laugh to hear that no one can agree on the exact measurements of the coverlet. The symmetry, 'fussy cutting', precision and choice of fabrics is fascinating, as well as the connections drawn between Jane Austen’s writing and needlework- she would have used old pieces of paper for the technique of English paper piecing and when running out of paper to write she would have cut and stitched paper together.
I then spoke briefly about the community project so far, showing photographs of some of the quilt squares returned (I promised the audience this was a world exclusive!) and during the process met some of the quilters who are participating in the project, who I have been emailing for months.
Lamps lined the pathways around the house, lighting the way in the darkness, creating a glow towards the house and an Autumnal feel. Visitors had the opportunity to look round and see the Austen coverlet up close, using their newly gleaned knowledge to discover and appreciate it in more depth. It was a lovely way to share the quilting project with a wider audience, including someone currently in the process of making their own replica coverlet!