Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hand Quilting in County Durham, England

I treasure this photograph. It was a gift--a wonderful black and white picture, c.1950, of a lady hand quilting. On the back in wavering pencil is written "Durham quilter." Durham is both a city and a county in northeast England and famous for its beautiful quilts. For more information, check out the book, North Country Quilts-Legend and Living Tradition, by British scholar Dorothy Osler. And when you go to Durham, don't miss the Beamish Museum's extensive collection of quilts- .

There are a number of interesting details that hand quilters can learn from this vintage photo. Notice that she's working on a wholecloth quilt, a classic type of quilt using solid color fabrics. The fabric might well be a cotton sateen since its surface seems to be very smooth.
The quilter must also be sitting in a chair that's much lower than the quilt's surface since the edge of the quilt is above her bust. This is probably because the quilt frame used here, although we can't see it, is a traditional table-top English frame, a half-size type of frame, derived from an embroidery frame, that sat on top of an already existing table. Unlike the American large-size quilting frame made of lumber, the old English quilting frame was smaller and had been adapted for the limited room available.
The puffiness of the part of the quilt (foreground) that's not yet quilted also tells us the batting (the English would call it 'wadding') was probably wool.
Lastly there's the stitching process on view. The quilter has quilted the outline inside of a feather wreath and its outline outside. Now we see she's going back and filling in the little curves of the feather spines. Clever, isn't it? For anyone who has pretzled themselves around a quilting hoop stitching feathers, this practical approach makes good sense!


dawnkucera said...

Thank you so much for this article! I spend part of each year in England, and have been to Durham (the cathedral there is magnificent). But I wasn't aware of the museum. When I return this summer, I will go back to Durham (via train from my small village near Cambridge) to see the museum.
I have just started a queen size whole cloth quilt, so that is another reason this picture intrigues me.
Aloha, Dawn from Hawaii

scott davidson said...

Some pretty designs alright. Doing the painting yourselves is more fun but a good place for ideas for more design is this site of, that I use to help with my wall decorations.
You can browse for a painting like this The tree, by 20th century Czech artist, Frantisek Kupka, for example, , that can be ordered on line and delivered to you.