A world expert in antique and rare quilts, Christopher Wilson-Tate shares with Ros Byam-Shaw his greatest find and the piece he'll keep forever: a museum quality appliqué and an English patchwork that sparked a thousand quilts.




Christopher Wilson-Tate bought his first antique quilt at the age of 15 from a local flea market on Tyneside in North East England. In the more than 40 years since, he has bought and sold many thousands more, often to museums and important private collections. He has inevitably become a world expert and now has his own collection of beautiful and rare British quilts dating back to the 18th century.

His shop on London’s Abbey Road dances with the colours and patterns of these remarkable works of folk art, many of which have inspired quilters worldwide to copy their designs and make heirlooms of the future. Ros Byam-Shaw

All images courtesy Christopher Wilson-Tate, Antique Textiles Company


My Greatest Find: Museum-quality 1850s appliqué

"I made one of my best ever finds very recently - just before Christmas. I was scanning through the textiles in an online sales catalogue for an auction house in Sussex and I spotted a photo with a corner of fabric poking out of a box.

It was only a tiny section of something bigger but it stopped me in my tracks, and I thought, now what’s that? It could have been Indian - the lot had a really low estimate and the fabric was listed as a 20th century appliqué, but there was something about it that made me think it was much more special. Even from seeing that little piece online, I thought I recognised the style and the fabrics of a mid-19th century English quilt, so I left quite a high bid and asked for more photographs.


1850s appliqué © Christopher Wilson-Tate


And when the images eventually came through late that night, the day before the auction, I did something I never do; I let out a scream of excitement - it was the most amazing 1850s appliqué - 170-odd years old and yet the colours were so bright, the design so incredible, and it was in perfect condition.

It’s a museum quality piece - a masterpiece - the sort of thing that only comes up every 30 or 40 years. I still can’t quite believe I found it!


The piece I'll keep forever:  Mary Gibbs 1812 English patchwork

Over the years I have sold more than 20,000 quilts and kept several hundred of them, but the one I could never let go is my Mary Gibbs 1812 English patchwork. I saw it by chance on Ebay, the week before Christmas 2015 while I was packing a hamper of chocolates to send to a friend in America. It had a very low price and it was only later when I had a closer look that I realised quite how lovely it was.

Then I was so excited that, since there was a postal strike, I decided to collect it and ended up in a one-way system of back streets in Luton with rows of two-up, two-down workers cottages. And there was a lady, with her head looking out of a door waiting for me, and she welcomed me into her tiny sitting room and almost immediately said something so kind and beautiful to me that it brought tears to my eyes.


Mary Gibbs 1812 English patchwork © Christopher Wilson-Tate


I will spare her blushes, but it was a blessing that my Scottish grandmother used to give to me and my sister. She opened up the quilt - it had been handed down on her mother’s side of the family - and showed me its embroidered signature, under a pocket on the reverse ‘Mary Gibbs, April 6th 1812’. By the time I left, I felt very close to her, and of course I gave her more for it than she had asked.

The pattern was reproduced a few years ago by Quiltmania and there is now a large community of quilt makers all over the world who have produced their own versions of it. The original will always hold very special memories for me.

Mary Gibbs 1812 English patchwork © Christopher Wilson-Tate

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