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I visit the Salvation Army op-shop in Newtown, Wellington, often because it’s on the way to my son’s day care. My visits usually go unrewarded but occasionally I get lucky.

On the day in question I felt like I shouldn’t go into the op shop – perhaps I was running late or maybe felt I’d shown my face in there too many times recently – but I felt strangely drawn to it, compelled to enter its doors. When this feeling struck I knew I had to obey. My obedience would be rewarded.

And so it was. I headed up to the stairs to the racks and shelves which ordinarily house a depressing collection of motley towels, pilled bedding, synthetic baby blankets and the wrong type of floral curtains. I almost missed the jewel wedged between the baby blankets. It was like it was hiding and would only reveal itself to the keenest of eyes. I realised I was looking at a series of hexagonal shapes made of various types and patterns of vintage fabric. There was no time to waste (I had a son to collect and a bus to catch) so I seized it, handed over $10 at the counter (someone made a real balls-up there – thanks Sallies) and carted my prize off.

Here it is – a mid-20th century quilt comprised of 462 hexagons hand-sewn together. It’s lined with calico and hemmed with plain black polished cotton. At about 148cms x 212cms it covers a single bed well and sits nicely a-top a double bed too. Machine-sewn zig-zags create triangles, diamonds and hexagons across the quilt.

The maker used a diverse range of fabric scraps dating from around the 1940s to the 1960s. Floral, abstract, gingham, polka dots, stripes, paisley, chinoiserie, illustrated scenes and monochrome fabrics are jammed together in a manner only quilts (and maybe Versace scarves) can get away with. There are different weights of cotton, including bark cloth, corduroy, demin and seersucker, silk, velvet and damask; day-dress and evening wear fabrics and some furnishing fabrics.

Floral

Damask

Seersucker

Bark cloth

Getting a bit abstract

Sailing away

Leaping deer

I estimate that it was made in the 1960s or ’70s. It’s often difficult to date pieces like this which use fabric scraps – they may have been constructed years or decades after the fabrics were produced. However, some of the silk pieces on this quilt have perished which makes me think it’s a few decades old. Otherwise it’s in very good order and the colours haven’t faded. It has been well-cared for.

I’m not sure what I am going to do with the quilt. At the moment it lives on my sewing table away from the sunlight. Once my son is older and more respectful I may dare to use the quilt as it was intended and throw it over a bed.

I went to a gorgeous exhibition of historic and contemporary quilts at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London recently (http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/textiles/quilts-1700-2010/exhibition/index.html) and I think my lucky find would have right at home with these!

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