By: Eleanor Knowles Dugan
During her lifetime, Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth (1886-1967) single-handedly amassed one of the largest and most extensive private collections of quilts and other textiles in Britain and possibly the world. Her family humorously dismissed her obsession as “Rachel’s tat” (worthless rags), yet her legacy is now valued at $10 million and housed in an archive for researchers and scholars. Rachel was a passionate, master needle-woman and effective social activist who used every item in her collection as a teaching tool during her long and very colorful life. She felt that textiles are as much a tactile as a visual medium and must be handled to be understood. Her dynamism was so potent and memorable that, forty years after her death, volunteers continue to maintain and add to the collection of 35,000 items in the archive housed in her family home in Lancashire, England, creating an ongoing historical resource.