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Treasured Threads

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Treasured Threads: Unpicking Gunnersbury’s Quilts
15 October 2019  - 12 January 2020

In 2019 we opened an exhibition centered on one of the museum’s most treasured objects: the Acton Top

Created in the early 19th century, the Acton Top would have been made as a bed cover. Along its borders four biblical scenes are depicted as well as figures in contemporary regency dress. The designs have been made by carefully stitching small pieces of fabric onto a cotton foundation cloth, a technique known as appliqué. 

The top would have taken hundreds of hours to make and the women who created it would not have needed to work outside the home. They would have had money to purchase fabrics and paper to create a purely decorative textile.   

Some of the material used probably would have been bought at a discount. Careful examination reveals that there are pieces with misprints. In the 19th century pieces like these along with end of roll segments would be sold specially for patchwork. 

The Acton Top was made at a time when creative outlets for women were limited. The tremendous skill, effort and imagination which went into it demonstrate how much can be expressed through something as everyday as a bed cover. We don’t know who made the Top, but it remains a potent testimony to their creative vision and labour. 

Researcher Bridget Long helped in preparing the exhibition. In this video she takes us through the imagery of the Acton Top and discusses the techniques which went into its construction.