Patchwork coverlet

Text by Sue Dell, Collections Volunteer at Jane Austen’s House

This beautiful quilt was made by Jane Austen, her sister, Cassandra and their mother.  It is a medallion quilt with a large central motif cut as a diamond, with a design of birds and a basket of flowers.  This is surrounded by a panel of 249 smaller diamonds joined by spotted sashing.  The outer edge, 11 inches deep, is made of over 2500 tiny diamonds, each with edges of 30mm. There are at least 64 fabrics in the quilt, a mix of dress and furnishing cottons.

We are not sure when it was made, but on 31st May 1811 Jane wrote to Cassandra, who was staying with their brother in Kent , “Have you remembered to collect peices (sic) for the patchwork – we are at a standstill”  – perhaps she was referring to this quilt or maybe they made more than one.

There are many remarkable things about this quilt, aside from the fact that it was stitched by one of the world’s favourite authors.  It is a wonderful piece of design with size of diamonds and layout carefully planned. The central panel of diamonds shows fourfold symmetry in their placement and the tiny diamonds in the outer edge are also placed symmetrically with top and bottom, and left and right sides matching.   We do not know of another quilt like this anywhere, it is a truly unique piece.  It passed down through the family until it was loaned to the Museum in 1950 and has been on display since then.

The quilt was made by the English paper piecing method; in this pieces of fabric are stitched to paper shapes and then hand-stitched together, using tiny stitches, about 12 per inch – the paper is then removed  – how we wish the papers had been left in – they might have been scraps of letters, or even discarded writings by Jane!