As the nights draw in, I have started to grumble about the cold. I have decided it would be nice to have a good old fashioned eiderdown or quilt to put on my bed. Obviously, this got me thinking about where the different types of quilts come from. So I am off again, heading up north to look at North Country quilts. Also known as Durham quilts, but they have always been made across the whole of Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire.
North Country quilts are whole cloth quilts, which means instead of being made from scraps of fabric to make the more familiar patchwork quilts, they are made from a continuous piece of fabric. Like most historic crafts this would traditionally be a cheap, readily available fabric, usually cotton, but sometimes a sateen type fabric. The exception to this rule was a ‘stripy’, which was a utility quilt that used strips of fabric, which was easier to construct and cheaper.
North Country quilts are often confused with Welsh quilts and this is not surprising, as to the uninitiated they do look similar. The main differences between the two are; Firstly, each have different ways of creating the stitched patterns. North Country quilts have a central motif surrounded by an area of infill patterns, often based around a specific design called the running Durham feather stitch, with a decorated border around the edge. Welsh quilts also have a central motif which is then framed by two or three squares which are then infilled with patterns, often a spiral motif. The second way of differentiating between the two regional quilts is the way the edges are finished. Welsh quilts tend to be finished with a butt edge, secured with a couple of rows of running stitches and North Country quilts tend to be finished with a couple of rows of machine stitching. Thirdly, North Country quilts are generally padded with cotton, presumably from the local mills and Welsh quilts are padded with wool, from the local sheep. Last but not least is that although both North Country and Welsh quiltmakers sometimes made the ‘Stripy’ quilts, the North Country quilts incorporated the strip into the design, with the patterns following the stripes whereas the Welsh quilts ignored the stripes and the patterns remained the same as whole cloth quilts.
I found a really interesting post on the difference between Welsh quilts and Durham quilts on Pippa Moss’s blog. Pippa goes into great detail on the differences and has some great images of her amazing collection of quilts. I must say, having looked at all her lovely examples, I really think a nice antique Durham quilt is just what I need for my bed. I will have to look out for one on ebay as there is not even the smallest chance I am going to make a full size quilt for myself. I know this for an absolute fact, as I just don’t have the stamina. I am in the process of making some samples of English quilting for the Design and Stitched Fabric course I have rashly signed up for and it is going to take me a month to make a cushion cover. But I digress….
Both the Welsh and the North Country quilts have very intricate designs and patterns, and these patterns could vary, not just from area to area but also within the same village where individuals would have their own distinctive style. Kate Trusson is a quilter from Swaledale and in an interview for Popular Patchwork she describes how North Country patterns were flowing, using running feathers, leaves, twisted chains, curlicues and spirals. Julie still uses patterns which are linked to her own locality, Swaledale in the Northern Dales. These unique patterns have an openness and a primitive quality about them.
Interestingly, Welsh patterns were called ‘string and teacup’ because they used household objects to draw round and used string as a compass and also to mark out straight lines. There were many ways the patterns were marked out and North Country quilter’s sometimes sent their quilts off to a stamper who printed the chosen pattern onto the fabric to give the quilter a guide to work from. This method does explain the complexity and symmetry of some examples of whole cloth quilts from the late nineteenth century.
Quilt making both in the UK and America is very much alive and kicking and the traditional patterns are still known and used. There are also many contemporary quilt makers who push the boundaries of this traditional skill. You only have to search the internet for Durham quilt making workshops to find a whole host of resources. If you want to see exquisite examples of both antique and contemporary quilts then I suggest you check out some of the websites below. Right now I am off to draw up an example of Durham running feather stitch for my course samples and I better order some cotton batting too if I want it to be authentic!
www.lilian-hedley-quilter.com - Queen of North Country quilts who runs courses on how to do Durham running feather stitch and also how to mark out your pattern
www.welshquilts.blogspot.co.uk - beautiful images of Pippa’s collection of vintage welsh and North Country quilts.
www.beamish.org.uk - large collection of quilts
www.quiltmuseum.org.uk - All things to do with quilts
www.stensource.com – Inspired to make your own quilt? Here is a source of designs if you aren’t confident in designing your own