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Researching Context for Patchwork and Quilting

When carrying out research on specific quilts you obviously need to put them into the context of the underlying story of patchwork and quilting. What may be less obvious is the need to consider the wider context for what you are looking at. For example:

  • Social and economic history
  • Technological changes and advances
  • Design history and context

To look at these aspects you might want to consult secondary sources of information such as:

  • Books
  • Articles/ Journals
  • Websites
  • Broadcast information (eg radio and television)

You may also find yourself needing to consider primary sources in your research and these may include material in:

  • Archive collections – letters, diaries, wills, probate documents, trade indexes, newspapers
  • Family/Local History Centres in local libraries – special family history days can be helpful
  • Newspaper archives/libraries – microfiche/digital archives
  • Specialist digital archives – eg New Opportunities Fund and other lottery-funded or private projects
  • General museum archives – eg for local business information such as advertising and trade cards, local and national photographic collections
  • Specialist libraries and museums – eg The Women's Library, Jane Austen Library, Platt Hall, John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian, Oxford, study centre at the Fashion and Textile museum at Bath, British Library Sound Archives (and many others)
  • Estate records
  • Court proceedings and other legal records
  • Military and naval records
  • Specialist booksellers and index compilers
  • Oral history records

If you are looking at early records be aware that you may need help with reading early modern handwriting and spellings and build that into your time.

The key to giving context and breadth to your research is to think around your subject area from the outset – what kind of questions are you needing to answer and where are you likely to find that information?

The other key is to meticulously record your sources and the date you consulted them – especially websites where the information can change/disappear! You will need this information when you write up your research for publication so keep a record of it in a consistent manner. If you are not sure what type of information you will need to keep look at the footnotes to papers already published in Quilt Studies on a similar topic before you begin your research and consult published guidelines. (If you are writing for BQSG the guidelines are on the BQSG website here

It must be clear in your work what is your own original research and what is taken from other sources. When you quote from or refer to other people’s work you must acknowledge it. Make a note of any sources you use when you find them so that when you come to write up your paper you have the information you need. For example, if you copy a quotation down when you are in a library, also make a note of the author, title, chapter, date and place of publication and page number as well as the exact wording of the quotation, as you will need to include this in your paper.

©Rachel Terry
June 2012