Monday, 31 August 2015

Scottish quilt history introduction

Scottish Log Cabin

As part of the C&G Diploma in Patchwork and Quilting, the students need to learn about the last 200 years of their local quilt history, so for my class that is British quilts.  I wanted us to go and visit a collection of historic quilts, but there isn’t really one locally.  I think many of the museums have one or two, but that wasn’t enough to justify a visit.  However, there is nothing like actually seeing and touching the quilts to bring them to life.  Luckily someone suggested I got in touch with Hazel Mills and she in turn suggested that Jan Rae could help and both of them came out here on Saturday to share their quilts and knowledge with us. 
A Hawick broken heart quilting pattern
I’m sure it was of benefit to the students, but it was also magnificent for me.  Although I have a reasonable knowledge of quilt history, as I am interested in history in general, Hazel and Jan were amazing.  Their combined knowledge was huge and we learnt about many different styles and types of British quilts.  For example, I knew about North Country and Welsh quilting, but I hadn’t heard of Hawick quilting, with its distinctive broken heart pattern and often thistles too.  As we expected, there were many wholecloth examples, which of course, don’t photograph well and so seemed much more impressive in real life than just as illustrations in books.  Jan also explained about ‘Comfy’ quilts, an actual brand name of manufactured quilts, which were very popular for a while.  They are completely reversible.
The 'Comfy' Quilt

The C&G syllabus says the students should also be aware of regional variations.  So as well as the wholecloth quilt showing the broken hearts and thistle indicative of Hawick quilting, we saw some other distinctively Scottish ones, such as this lovely blue based log cabin and also an unusual (for Scotland) quilt with Turkey Red stars.  
Turkey Red Star Quilt

This was fascinating as one quilt history book I had read said that there was no quilting tradition in Scotland.  Obviously, this isn’t true – maybe it is just more hidden or less celebrated than in other countries or part of the UK.
Looking at the log cabin
Although we were concentrating on British quilts, we did get to see some other gems such as Hazel’s Kantha from India.  Jan also brought along some American quilts and it was interesting to see the differences.

Hazel's Kantha

An exciting part of the experience was being able to handle these quilts, all of which were in fantastic condition.  For example, it was amazing to feel the variations in wadding between a wool one and a cotton one.  Indeed there one was which we were still unsure at the end of the day whether it contained wadding or not, it was so fine.  Another had obviously been washed several times and the wadding had split and concentrated at the quilting.  It made it a lot easier to see the quilting patterns when you held it up to the light.  It was a really privilege to be able to handle all of these quilts.  I’m incredibly grateful to both Hazel and Jan for sharing all their knowledge so generously with us and bringing quilt history alive for us.   I also have to admit I did my ‘fan girl’ bit and got Jan to sign my copy of her book ‘The Quilts of the British Isles’ – the best book on the subject!

My favourite was one of the last ones we saw – made almost entirely from quarter square triangles, this quilt was a very patriotic one.  The red and white triangles divided the quilt, like the bands on the Union Jack flag and in the border, used in bigger chunks was a fabric celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887.
Queen Victoria Golden Jubilee fabric


Gillian Cooper said...

This is a comment from Margaret, which I inadvertently deleted by mistake. Sorry Margaet - I do appreciate your comments.

I really enjoyed this too, Gillian! Here in Canada our quilting tradition exists...but very quietly. We are so heavily influenced by the US, that I'm sure many assume any quilting we did in the early life of our country came from there...when actually it more likely came from the UK!

Gillian Cooper said...

Thank you Margaret. It is fascinating where the quilt patterns come from and also how it developed in very local way, whilst still being influenced by what was happening elsewhere in the country or world. I'm really grateful to those who do the historical research to piece together a better view of our quilt history

Linda Lane Thornton said...

There is an article on the Hawick Quilts in one of the British Quilt Study Groups journals, Quilt Studies - I can't remember which number. I explored these quilts in 2006/7 and delivered the paper at the BQSG seminar in November of that year.
Linda Lane Thornton

Gillian Cooper said...

Thanks for letting us know Linda. I will go and check my Quilt Studies journals to see if your paper is in one I have. The history of quilts is really absorbing and there is so much to discover.

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