Wednesday, May 24, 2006
William Fist's quilt, which has come down through the women in my family to me, is what is known as a "Military Quilt." It is made from the cloth from which the military uniforms used to be made. It is called "feltcloth", although it is not true felt, just a very tightly woven woollen cloth. However, the yellow border on William's quilt is actually felt...no doubt used for greater colour impact, or maybe because he ran out of the other fabric!
There are a number of examples of these quilts still around. The only one I have actually seen is in the Military section of the Auckland museum, but I have seen photos of others, including a couple in the American Museum in Bath, England, and one in Tasmania. There is also quite a lot of information and pictures in a book called "Quilt Treasures -The Quilters' Guild Heritage Search" put out by the Quilters' Guild in Britain. There is a famous painting by a Thomas Wood, painted c. 1956, showing a soldier sitting up in bed in a military hospital sewing a patchwork quilt.
The making of these quilts was a strong military tradition for over half a century. It is believed that tailor's scraps were used for making them, and sometimes cloth from the uniforms of soldiers who had died. About half of the known military quilts were made by men serving in India, as in William's case, and these tend to be in brighter colours than the others. Evidently some of the sewing was sometimes done by Indian civilians attached to the British Army, but it appears that William denies having had any assistance!!
One of those shown in the picture below was made as late as the Boer War.
The quilts tend to use detailed geometric designs and are made with great "military precision." William's quilt is incredibly square, although it has over 5500 half-inch pieces (before seams).
In the picture above, which shows the reverse side, you can see the tiny seams worked in a strong cotton thread with a backstitch. Some of the thread ends are still hanging. There is no doubt that this very strong cloth would have been rather challenging for a woman's daintier fingers to sew!
It is believed that some of them were made as a form of rehabilitation for convalescing soldiers, or while in a Military prison. I have no reason to think William was ever wounded, but he may well have served a short time in prison for one of breaches of duty that caused his demotions!
Actually, William's quilt is somewhat more modest than most of the others I have seen pictured. It is, nevertheless, a fine achievement and evidence of great persistence and endurance, as well as a somewhat artistic bent. And it is an heirloom I will always treasure.