My last destination on Wednesday was the V & A for the Quilts exhibition. I think the V & A is one of my favourite places in all the world; it is such a beautiful, calming building. I can still remember the first time I went as a teenager. I hadn’t travelled outside of England at that stage and I was totally blown away by the exhibits from so many other cultures. It was like travelling the world just by walking from room to room.

No photo’s or postcards will ever capture the quilts properly, you really do need to see them in the flesh to observe and appreciate the workmanship. The quilt above just looks a bit brown in the photo but in reality it has appliqued scenes from everyday life stitched all around the border. Just one scene would have taken months to do. What really struck me afresh was that these really old quilts would have been sewn by hand, when fabric was a rare and expensive commodity, and done a lot by candlelight in small houses. No designated quilting room, no daylight lamp bulbs or magnifying devices, let alone a sewing machine. There was one quilt (the only quilt in the world) that was sewn by hundreds of female British prisoners whilst they were travelling to Australia. Sewn in the dark hull of a ship!

I hired the iPod touch audio guide which was defiantly worth an extra £3 as it gave you the stories behind the quilts and their makers and lots of information about details that you wouldn’t have known to look for otherwise.

Quilting seems to be one of the very few skills that is common across such a wide age range and has the potential to forge community around it. Not just through quilting circles but even at the exhibition I felt like we all had something in common. I felt it at the Twisted Thread exhibition too earlier in the year. You just know you could sit and chat to really anyone there and find things in common. It was interesting to see the Wandsworth prison project and hear how much therapy they had got from sewing and a sense of unity in their shared interest. (I still want to know how prisoners can have sewing needles in their cells after lock up! Any answers on a postcard please…)

Private Thomas Walker 1856

And to finish with this because it challenges all my previous mis-conceptions and it’s such an amusing image. A man quilting back in the C19th!