Throughout 2017 Jane Austen’s House Museum facilitated a collaborative quilting project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and inspired by the Austen family coverlet which is a highlight of the Museum’s collection. The project, which involved over 300 participants worldwide, culminated in the production of two community quilts celebrating the life and works of Jane Austen.
On Saturday 10th March, Jane Austen’s House Museum hosted a celebration event to showcase the new community story quilt in the Museum’s Learning Centre. Around 80 participants, some travelling from as far afield as Scotland, made the trip to Chawton to view the quilt and share stories and experiences about the project over tea and coffee. Liz Betts, Quilt Designer, and Sue Dell, Collections Volunteer and Austen coverlet expert, were on-hand throughout the day to meet with visitors and participants and answer questions about the project.
The event was officially opened by Martyn Dell, one of the trustees at Jane Austen’s House Museum and Lucy Bailey, Heritage Activities Project Manager. Lucy gave thanks to the volunteers, participants and partner organisations including the Heritage Lottery Fund, Jane Austen Hampshire Group, Alton Library, Fine Cell Work, Winchester Discovery Centre, Home-Start WeyWater and the Alresford Lacemakers.
Each individual quilt block was designed and created by representatives from over forty community groups worldwide, including groups in North America, Australia and Brazil as well as closer to home with blocks designed by Chawton Primary School and Chawton House. Each block explores a different theme which when combined forms a patchwork of stories narrating Jane Austen’s life.
Lucy Bailey, Heritage Activities Project Manager says: “It has been wonderful to see the culmination of this year long project. We have produced two beautiful quilts which reflect Jane Austen’s life and legacy and how she continues to inspire people today. We have worked with over 300 participants worldwide, whose own work and creativity will now be on display at the home of one of Britain’s best loved authors.”
Liz Betts, Quilt Designer and Facilitator says: “Working on the research, design and production of the two Jane Austen community quilts has been an incredible experience. From receiving the theme of their square, to sending in their finished piece, all the participants approached their contribution in a thoughtful way and it was wonderful to have so many of them come and join us at the celebration event to admire their own work and meet other makers. I hope visitors to the Museum this year will enjoy seeing the stitched interpretation of Jane’s life.”
Sue Dell, Collections Volunteer and Austen coverlet expert says: “To see an idea emerge into reality is one of the most exciting creative experiences – and so it has been with the Community Quilt. Brain-storming with a colleague over two years ago produced the germ of an idea which over 180 people have turned into reality in the stunning quilt which was unveiled last Saturday, with many of the quilters in attendance. Their creativity, skill, imagination and labour have produced a wonderful piece of art which reflects the life and legacy of Jane Austen – I am sure she would say the same as she wrote in December 1809: I wish I could help you in your Needlwork, I have two hands and a new Thimble that lead a very easy life.”
The two completed quilts will be on display at Jane Austen’s House Museum throughout 2018. The larger community story quilt is exhibited in the Learning Centre and the smaller English paper-pieced Admirals’ Quilt, the result of community workshops at Alton Library and Winchester Discovery Centre, is on display in the Admirals’ Room.
A book about project, Stories in Stitches: Reimagining Jane Austen’s Quilt, is available to purchase from the Museum shop.
For further information about the community quilt project, please visit our quilt blog.
Please note: the Jane Austen Community Story Quilt will be off limits to visitors when the Learning Centre is in use by a school group or closed for an event. Please call in advance to check if the Learning Centre will be open on your intended date of visit.
Both quilts will not be on display from 8 -13 August 2018 as they are due to be exhibited at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham.