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'Things We Do In Bed'

Posted on June 30, 2014

Danson House in Bexley, Kent is currently playing host to an exhibition of quilts entitled ‘Things We Do In Bed’.  Curated by author Tracy Chevalier, the exhibition traces the intimate details of quilt making and their involvement in vital life events: birth, sleep, sex, illness and death.  Set in the third floor bedrooms and living areas of Danson House, there was a quiet serenity about the exhibition that contrasted with the lavish rooms below.  

The first room ‘Birth’ includes a detailed 18th century white linen birth cot cover, intricately detailed with the finest of stitches. Its whiteness is startling and pure, the piece is on loan from the V&A and you can read more here.

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On the opposite wall is Grayson Perry’s Right to Life quilt, which questions America’s anti-abortion campaigns, using an All-American craft to depict bloody foetuses.  

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'Sleep' has another example of white quilting in the form of a nightcap, but its main feature is a quilt made by prisoners working with the charity Fine Cell Work, consisting of 63 squares that discuss the prisoners relationship with sleep, depicting their dreams and desires, or torments. The quilts lays heavy on a single bed, loaded with angst and pain, but realised using a precise, rhythmic and controlled practice. Tracy Chevalier speaks about the project:

When I commissioned the Sleep Quilt, I hadn’t realised that sleep is such a contentious issue in prison. It is not an environment that encourages a good night’s sleep. It’s noisy and stuffy, the cells are small, the beds hard, and there are always lights on. Prisoners are often anxious, and lie in bed turning over thoughts about their lives. Several of the prisoners included statements along with their sleep squares expressing these anxieties. They make touching reading.” 

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'Sex' and 'Illness' twist the traditional notions of quilts by playing with materials, stones and pills are encapsulated in one, discussing the depression from which the artist suffered.  

'Death' includes a quilt made in the late 1800's, black and white, its bold, geometric design would not look out of place in any contemporary design store.  Yet reading on, my aesthetic wants were touched by its history, entitled Darts of Death, the quilt would have been made by widow and in the same way she would have shrouded herself in black clothing, her bed also had to have the same mourning rituals.  The design features a black palm shape, which represents the palms laid down before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem shortly before he died. Within the white is the symbol of a lyre which can represent lyrics, music and poetry, but in this context is thought to demonstrate the wisdom and moderation required in a widow's life.

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The beauty of the exhibition was in its simplicity, it was understated and allowed the work to do the talking.  Set within a domestic setting, each stitch on each quilt was rooted in the making, showing quilting as a personal labour to celebrate or honour major life events, but most striking was its role in rehabilitation and repair, as if we every stitch some pain is exhaled.

The exhibition continues until 31st October 2014, you can find more info here.

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