Military Patchwork Quilt

Patchwork quilt made by a soldier

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

This patchwork quilt in Bradford's collections is thought to have been made by Corporal Henry Ellis. It is made of tiny bright woollen pieces from military uniforms and lined with Paisley patterned cotton.

Square patches are the simplest shapes for piecing together to make a hand-stitched patchwork quilt. Quilts of this type were often made by men. This comes from an English quilting tradition of men making quilts from soldiers' uniforms which, before the introduction of khaki after the Boer war, provided a good supply of colourful woollen materials.

The picture above shows a watercolour portrait of Corporal Ellis. Notebooks in Bradford's collections tell us that he was born in Huddersfield in 1818, enlisted in the service in 1838 and after service in various regiments for 21 years, during which period he served in North America and Jamaica, was discharged with a pension in 1876.

What we don't know is why and where Corporal Ellis made the quilt, when he made it, whose uniforms contributed to the making of the quilt and how long it took to make.
What we do know is at that time it was quite common for men to sew, especially if they were soldiers or sailors to pass the time when they were away from home.

Curriculum links:

KS2/3 Art & Design - Artefacts, textiles

KS2 History - Museums and galleries, clothing

KS2/3 Design and Technology - Clothes and fabric, textiles, hand skills

Discussion ideas:

  • If it was quite usual for soldiers or sailors to sew around the time this quilt was made, do you think they continued practising this skill when they went home?
  • Today in our fashion industry what are men most famous for?
  • What colour is 'khaki' and why do you think it replaced brightly coloured materials for uniforms?
  • Making a quilt from pieces of uniforms was a form of recycling. What modern day examples of recycling do you know?

Activity ideas:

  • Find out where the word Khaki comes from
  • With the whole class make a large patchwork quilt from paper
  • Look at the uniform of Corporal Ellis and then research uniforms that soldiers wear today from different countries across the world

Young person's response to this object:

Using army uniforms to create something so vibrant and beautiful seems strange, but it shows what different backgrounds art can come from. How many different uniforms did this blanket come from?
Tom Burke

We have another resource on My Learning about a modern designer called Gemma Nemer who recycles materials in her jewellery work.

Recycling was also important during World War II - see our resource Home Front - the civilian war effort

Document icon Learning article provided by: Bradford Industrial Museum | 
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