Joe the Quilter (14th May)

Today I was out and about in costume at Newbrough Town Hall  finding out about how the team engage communities that are connected to buildings at the Museum.  As part of the planned expansion to the 1820s area the Museum hope to represent the life of Joe the Quilter.  The brutal murder of Joseph (the Quilter) Hedley in 1826 led to detailed plans of his cottage/workshop being exceptionally well recorded. This means that he is a person about which we have a wealth of information; from the layout of his cottage to a list of furniture and large items it housed and even drawings of the cottage as it was. Through his story we are able to explore the life of an ordinary working man in the time period, as well as more about the skill of quilting from which he made his living.

Days like this are a great chance to get a wide range of people interested in Joe’s story and there was lots to offer from craft activities for younger people to live music, information on Joe’s cottage and the wider period and even some period appropriate snacks.  I had a go at making a portrait of myself and a lavender bag, as well as tracing some quilt designs – the intricacy of which made it all the more impressive that Joe, and quilters like him, were creating designs like this on a large scale, in a dimly lit, very small cottage!

It was great to chat to lots of people about the plans to replicate the cottage at the museum – I found I was learning loads but also (finally!) that I knew enough about the projects to be able to approach people and talk to them about Joe and his story.

One of the ideas that has stayed with me from the day is the intrinsic ‘mistakes’ in Joe’s quilts – a pattern on a border that became smaller to fit it in or a slight change in a pattern as it altered through repetition.  I love this idea that each quilt was so entirely unique and such a result of it’s handmade process.