When I fell in love with a patchwork quilt it was the long life of these objects which beguiled me. The idea that a textile might be made from cherished fabrics, could include quilted motifs that reflect the maker or their home region, could be an item that became a legacy to a maker, and to hold memories for generations. Quilts have soul, they have emotional resonance, and even non-quilters feel the power of the weight that they haul through space and time.
I saw my first quilt in the US, but I fell in love with quilt history when I learnt about my country’s quilt past. The British Isles has a long deep history of making patchwork and of creating quilting items but it’s history is often not widely known, with many still seeing the craft as purely an American practice.
If the power of a quilt is its ability to communicate something of the maker, of the time it was made, and to form a chain of memory in families, then it’s important to me to make quilts that are very much about here and now. I want to make textiles that speak of my life, my family, my geography – to create a chain of references that can be ‘read’ by future generations. At the same time I’m conscious of my responsibility to this chain of historical makers, so I also want my quilts to reverence our shared british quilt making past.
Quilt history in Britain is patchily recorded, but much can be uncovered. Formal recording of the practice of this often domestic craft, concentrated amongst women, was unfortunately inevitably poor. The height of quilting fashion in Britain came in the 18th century, and so sources are obscured in the passing of time. What women made, in their own homes for their families, has only recently been valued. The status of the craft declined through the 19th century, further obscuring it’s record. Historians began to record some vernacular practice in some parts of the UK where quilting still thrived in the 1930’s along with wider interest in ‘folk’ traditions, but again few sources survive. The quilters of the 1970’s and 1980’s were the first to recognise the historic value of women’s domestic sewing practice. These makers founded The Quilters’ Guild and the British Quilt Study Group and their scholarship has informed much of what we know today.
The more I learn as I research the quilts and quilters of the British Isles, the richer that history unveils itself to be. I have been making modern quilts that have their roots in British quilt history. You can read about each make here, but recently I wanted to put this in a timeline, to make it easier to understand how the stories that my quilts reference fit together, how the Scant History of British Quilting and Patchwork fits together into the glorious patchwork of ideas, influences and emotions that is our textile history.
By clicking through to the various posts about my makes, you can follow a roughly chronological history of Patchwork and Quilting in the British Isles, and enjoy the stories and vernacular themes that I explore along the way as I amble at a hand quilters pace through time, and around the geography of our fascinating country from town to farm house, cottage to castle.
NB: you may notice that my hand written diagram does not include all of these quilts! I, of course, made more!