In praise of quilts: The V & A's luxury beds

Posted June 28th, 2010

We know everyone loves beds, but at The Sleep Room we wanted to take a minute to praise what we put on them. Then we realised that the Victoria & Albert Museum had beaten us to it. They currently have an exhibition, Quilts 1700-2010 running until 4 July, and it truly is filled with treasures both fascinating and moving.

While we can of course appreciate the appeal of simple white linen on a gorgeous upholstered bed, we became unexpectedly entranced by the quilts on display. They range from military quilts - dating from back in the times when soldiers in 19th century India were encouraged to use embroidery as a way of preventing excessive drinking and gambling - to quilts from modern artists such as Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry. Although, the less we at The Sleep Room are reminded of Tracey's My Bed the better…

There are some truly exquisite quilts on display, including a beautiful silk cot quilt, but many of the more ornate designs were not really intended as covers for luxury beds, but more as historical documents or family heirlooms. A closer inspection of many of them tells a curious story. For example, a quilt depicting Aesop's Fables has clearly been stitched by two different sets of hands. How can we tell? Because parts show the work of someone paying meticulous attention to detail, and other parts … not so much. One might even say slapdash.

Quilts celebrating childbirth, and for use on children's beds also feature prominently in the exhibition, but perhaps the ones that really caught our eye are those made by prisoners at HMP Wandsworth. Poignant but not relentlessly grim, they have slogans such as "I miss my family" and of course "I didn't do it, guv, honest" stitched on to them.

It's a wonderful exhibition and we'd encourage anyone who had a passion for crafts or who just loves beds to go and see it. And if you don't fancy taking our word for it, be warned that tickets are selling fast regardless - it is had over 8,000 advance bookings and local hotels are choc-a-bloc with bookings from abroad. Get in amongst the covers while you can!