Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is home to over two hundred examples of quilting and patchwork. This vast collection includes a wide variety of styles and techniques, ranging in date from the early 1700s to the present day.

The Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt is probably one of the most well-known patchworks produced in Wales. Made by James Williams – a military master tailor from 8 College Street, Wrexham – its design is unlike any other in the Museum’s collection. The quilt’s background is a pieced composition of diamond patches, chevrons, squares and rhomboids. Biblical scenes dominate the centre – Adam naming the animals, Jonah and the Whale, Noah’s Ark with a dove bearing an olive branch, and Cain and Abel. Other figurative motifs include Thomas Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge (opened in 1826), a Chinese pagoda, and Cefn Viaduct, complete with a crossing steam train. Details are picked out through embroidery in silk thread.

Meticulously pieced, James Williams made his quilt by recycling a variety of felted woollen cloths, possibly off-cuts of broadcloth from military uniforms. In total, it consists of 4,525 separate pieces of cloth, butt-joined with overcast stitches worked from the reverse. Examples of this type of inlaid (‘intarsia’) patchwork found in museum collections are usually the work of professional tailors. The technique requires a high degree of skill and the use of thick cloth that does not fray to accommodate the oversewing required.

According to family history, James Williams spent a decade completing the piece, the work being done in his leisure hours between 1842 and 1852. The quilt soon became an exhibition piece; it was displayed at the Art Treasures Exhibition in Wrexham in 1876, at the Palace of Arts in Wembley in 1925, and to much public acclaim at the Wrexham National Eisteddfod of 1933.

Census returns for the Wrexham area suggest that James Williams was born in 1818. His tailoring establishment appears in numerous trade directories from the 1850s onwards. He died in 1895, leaving his son to inherit the family business. Forty years after his death, the economic depression of the 1930s prompted Williams’s grandson to sell the quilt to the Museum, stating that “it has always been my wish that the quilt should be sent to [the] National Museum of Wales so as my fellow countrymen should have the opportunity to admire a work of art that today could not be done if you were to pay the most skilful craftsman £1 a minute to do”.

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