Elizabeth Fry Patchwork Quilts

This International Womens Day we are highlighting one of our visitors favourite panels. This embroidery is much admired not only for it’s design and beautiful embroidery, but also for the inspiring woman behind its story…

Elizabeth Fry challenged the appalling conditions of 19th century prisons, especially for women prisoners who were held with their children. In 1818 the government decided to send women convicts to Australia.

Transportation was traumatic, the women and children were herded into flat carts, manacled and wearing leg irons. They were then pulled through the streets to the jeers of the townspeople, pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables and sods of soil, arriving at the ship terrified and filthy. They remained in the ships hold for the entire 17 week voyage.

Elizabeth arranged that women would be transported in closed carriages, unmanacled, at night and allowed out of the hold once the ship had sailed a mile (too far to swim back). The boredom on the long voyage would lead to fighting and gambling, so Elizabeth Fry introduced a most imaginative scheme.

Each woman was to have a bag of useful things, containing; clothing, a comb and brush, soap and towels, a Bible, spectacles, a plate, cutlery, material, wadding, needles, a thimble and threads. Everything needed to make a patchwork quilt during those long days at sea. Over 12,000 prisoners received a bag and Elizabeth Fry visited each of their 106 ships.

Prospective employers would meet the ships for free labour. A well-made quilt would show that the convicts were industrious, clean and willing to work quietly at a given task. Elizabeth did not simply give to these women a bag of useful things, she gave them back their self-respect.

A bit about the stitches…

Two Australian Quakers saw the design of this panel when attending Quaker Yearly Meeting in London. They exclaimed “This isn’t your story, it’s ours! We would like to learn about the embroidery and take this panel throughout Australia to be embroidered”. This became the first of the 77 panels to be embroidered abroad.

Before the panel went to Australia Anne Wynn-Wilson (Creator of The Quaker Tapestry) made the large coils of rope by attaching several strands of wool to the upturned beater of her kitchen mixer, set it off and made a very long thick twisted chain which could be couched onto the panel. The ‘rope’ is so real looking and lifts off the surface of the embroidery with real effect.

The children in Taunton Meeting did the drawings at the bottom of the panel, which were then embroidered by children in Australia.

Your own piece of Elizabeth Fry and the Patchwork Quilts..

The beautiful detail of this embroidery is available as a postcard, whether you’re sending birthday or get well wishes, thank you’s or just saying hello from across the miles, our high quality postcards are a lovely way to keep in touch or to keep as a memento. The full panel is also available as a high quality photographic print in a range of sizes or as a bookmark to delight children and adults alike. There is information about all the panels on our website or in our popular Pictorial Guide.

Buying lovely things from us directly supports our charitable work, thank you. Your purchase helps us to preserve and exhibit one of the world’s largest community embroideries. Sharing its stories, history and stitches for all to enjoy.

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“We were entranced not only by the Tapestry panels and the social history on display but also by the ambience of the Meeting House, the interpretation and information made available to us. It is a very good memory for us.”

Sutton Coldfield Ladies’ Gardening Club