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New Pathways into Quilt History written by Kimberly Wulfert, www.antiquequiltdating.com

A Northern Irish quilt historian Restores
a British historical quilt
 - made with textiles commemorating
Col. Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of the Boy Scouts),
and the ending of the siege of Mafeking in the Boer War, 1900

by Quilt preservationist and collector Roselind Shaw, Northern Ireland
All photos are courtesy of Roselind Shaw.

About eight years ago, on my travels through England, I came upon a large Antique Fair. As I was walking through the event, I spied what I thought was an early patchwork lying in a heap on the ground. With great excitement I picked it up, but to my dismay it had a large hole in the centre (36”x36”).

I asked the lady, who was selling it, what happened to this? She told me that she was unable to sell the patchwork because of the subject in the middle. I asked what was in the centre? She replied Col. Baden Powell and flags. The lady told me she had cut out the centre panel and sold it to a man who was selling military badges. He did not want the patchwork, and since she was unable to sell it as it was, she cut out the centre for him to sell. The lady informed me that the remaining piece of patchwork was for sale, perhaps it could be used for making cushions.

At this stage all kinds of thoughts and emotions were going through my head. My husband, who is a member of the Scout Movement, is a collector of Lord Baden Powell memorabilia. I was thinking how disappointing, what a loss, he would have been delighted to add the quilt to his collection.

When I recovered from the shock, I decided to buy the patchwork as it was. I asked the lady if she knew where I could find the man who had bought the centre piece. She said the sale had taken place a short time ago and was able to give me directions to where I would find the buyer. I raced off to try and find the gentleman concerned. I did so with great relief and thankfully managed to buy the panel back —“What a relief.”

 

When I returned home and studied the quilt in detail, I realised that the patchwork had been made to commemorate the ending of the siege of Mafeking in the Boer war. The centre panel, a square placed on the point, is made up from nine blocks. The nine patch blocks on the four corners are hand-pieced with semi mourning and white fabric depicting an appliquéd symbol of the Victoria Cross in the centre. The purple fabric acknowledging the dead. The remaining five blocks appear to have been made from printed flags of that time. The centre block showing the crown with two blocks, one on either side of the crown, with a lion rampant guarding the crown. To the left, a block showing a bust of and stating Col. Baden Powell for Queen and Country. The block to the right of the crown shows parts of the union flag joined together with small traces of the printed Victoria Cross. The centre panel is surrounded by two rows or borders of triangles known as “Cotton Reel” in the patriotic colours of red, white and blue, leading into the remainder of the patchwork which is hand pieced triangles made from early dress fabric. At the head of the patchwork is a hand pieced nine patch block made from red and white material with an appliqué symbol of the Victoria Cross in the centre. The red and white fabric representing blood and bandages of dead and wounded soldiers.

Because the centre panel had been hacked out, I did not know how I was going to put it together again. Periodically, I unfolded all the pieces to try and figure it out, it was such a puzzle I was not making any progress.

Then an event arose when my husband was given an award by the Scout Association which meant an invitation to Windsor castle and the next year to a dinner in London. At the dinner, a member of Lord Baden Powell’s family was sharing our table, this prompted me to tell her the story of the patchwork. She kindly introduced me to the Scout Association’s archivist and asked me to tell him the story. He was very interested, he told me he was often called upon to look at Mafeking memorabilia, he said it was quite amazing what was produced in that era, and that he was learning all the time, this was something else, to learn of a patchwork quilt.

After this event, I decided it was time I made a determined effort to put the patchwork together.

In June of 2005, I started by backing each of the nine blocks individually, to give them extra body and protection. I then added turkey red stripes between the blocks, to compensate for the loss of the seam allowance which was cut off. When I tried to put the completed panel back in, it did not fit, what a disappointment, I was about to give up,  when my husband suggested I put one piece of turkey red material in the centre and sew the blocks to that. I said do not be silly that will not work. Then I thought about it, I had to eat humble pie, I tried it and it worked --- success at last. Since I have a collection of turkey red material, I was able to match the colour and period with the existing turkey red in the patchwork.

I sewed each block on top of the turkey red fabric with a fine hand hemming stitch and then quilted across each block to keep it flat. I backed the quilt with flour bags and finished it with a turkey red edge. ---- What a relief it was finished.

I felt very privileged that I was able to rescue and preserve a very important part of our country's history which was nearly lost, and also to pay tribute to Lord Baden Powell.

When I showed the quilt at the British Quilt Study Group 'show and tell' in November 2005, in York, a very nice lady spoke to me afterwards, she told me she had been a cub leader and suggested that Baden Powell would have been proud of me, doesn’t that say it all ---- it was worth it in the end.

The Boy Scout Movement was founded by Baden Powell in 1907 ---- 100 years ago this year.

 

To contact Roselind, with comments or questions, send your email to: wjamesshaw@hotmail.com


Thank you, Roselind, for another wonderful article about Ireland’s quilts!

 

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© 2007 - 2015 Kimberly Wulfert, PhD. Absolutely no copies, reprints, use of photos or text are permitted for commercial or online use. One personal copy for study purposes is permitted.

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