A jewel in the crown of the textile collection

A patchwork quilt made from 4,525 separate pieces of cloth

The Tailor's Patchwork Coverlet c. 1842-52: 234cm x 203cm
The Tailor's Patchwork Coverlet c. 1842-52: 234cm x 203cm

St Fagans National History Museum has over 15,000 textile items in its care. A highlight of this vast collection is a large 'coverlet' or patchwork quilt. Created in 1842 by James Williams, a master tailor from College Street, Wrexham, the coverlet contains over four and a half thousand pieces of cloth and took over 10 years to complete.

Rags to riches

Patchwork coverlets and quilts are often made by sewing together left-over pieces of cloth, for example, worn-out shirts or suits. James Williams made his coverlet by recycling a variety of woollen cloths. These were mainly old military uniforms and the overall design is a hotchpotch of blues, browns, fawns and reds. In total, the coverlet consists of a staggering 4,525 separate pieces of cloth, all hand-stitched together like a gigantic mosaic.

Industry in art

The coverlet is a classic piece of folk art. Its design and the way it was made clearly shows the tailor's creative flair, and also, his appreciation of the engineering achievements of his day. In the top left-hand corner is Telford's Menai Suspension Bridge (completed in 1826). The impressive Cefn Viaduct near Wrexham (completed in 1848), with its tall slim arches, spans the centre of the piece, while the Chinese pagoda in the top-right hand corner was probably taken from a willow-pattern plate.

Other scenes include several Biblical motifs - for example, Noah's Ark with a dove bearing an olive branch, the killing of Abel by Cain, and the central image of Adam naming the animals. The tiny brown spots on the giraffe are all separate, hand-stitched pieces of cloth.

Background Reading

Mary Jenkins & Clare Claridge, Making Welsh Quilts: the Textile Tradition that Inspired the Amish? (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 2005).

Jen Jones, Welsh Quilts (Carmarthen: Towy Publishing, 1997).

Christine Stevens, Quilts (Llandysul: Gomer Press in association with the National Museum of Wales, 1993).

Article Date: 16 April 2007

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