Tag Archives: crafts

North Country Quilts (that’s not the same as Welsh Quilts)

Durham Quilt image from Welsh Quilts blogspot

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.

Durham quilter. Note the fabric here is sateen

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.

by Lilian Hedley

 

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….

I want this one for my bed, but it is at Nunnington Hall. North Yorkshire!

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.

I Love Feathers by Sheila Curtis of Ledbury.

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

Posted in County Durham, Heritage Crafts, Northumberland, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Southport Boat Basket

 

Ok, I know – I haven’t managed to blog for a while.  I don’t know how these people keep their virtual worlds going – week in, week out.  It seems to me that every time I think I have the time to blog a bit, real life gets in the way and I have to postpone my virtual journey.  But today is the day, it is almost a year since I first started this lovely traditional crafts road trip and I am back on the fibre optic track.

Today I am in Southport to look at the Southport boat basket and before I even begin to look at the boat, which is not a boat by the way, I need to work out where I am.  I have found over the course of this trip, regional traditional crafts don’t usually stick to modern county boundaries, instead they follow the geography of the land and local industry.  However, as I like things nice and tidy, I usually list things under the modern county boundaries, but that was before I looked up Southport!   It seems Southport hasn’t quite decided where it should be, it used to be in Lancashire and is now in Merseyside, but many people who live there would like to move back to Lancashire.

Anyway I am not to discuss local county boundaries,  I am here to look at local baskets.  I found out about the Southport boat through a friend of mine, Greta Bertram, who works at the Museum of English Rural Life.  We had been discussing Historypin and Greta wrote a great post on their blog, A Sense of Place about how Historypin was evolving and she mentioned the Southport boat within her post.  So I absolutely had to trot off to Southport to go and find the basket.

This basket has proved rather elusive.  It is known locally and amongst basket makers, but there is very little information out there about it.   The first thing I did find out was it doesn’t come from Southport at all but from a small village nearby called Mawdesley, which incidentally is still in Lancashire.  It is said the name Mawdesley originated way back, when a certain Matilda-Mawde married a local lad and the town was named after her as part of her dowry.  The Mawdesley family were the local ‘lord of the manor’ type and have lived in Mawdesley Hall, built by William Mawdesley in 1625, pretty much ever since.

Over time the town became famous for its basket making and the baskets were known for their strength, mainly due to local growing conditions which resulted in nice strong willow.  By 1862 there were eleven basket making businesses in the village and this rose to twenty in 1874.  Even the Mawdesley family established themselves as basket manufacturers and ran one of the larger businesses at Towngate Basket Works which remained open until the 1960’s.

The industry supported many people, some working full time and some working at home to supplies the frames of the basket lids.  Plus, there were many farmers who grew the willow, dependant on the industry too.  In 1914 there were 200 acres of willow around about the village and all those twigs had to be cut by hand and then sorted, dried and peeled.  The local industries mean there was no shortage of demand for the baskets.  Supplies were made for coal mining, shipping, fishing, agriculture and mills.

Cobham Basket Works

So, the Southport boat was one of many baskets made in the basket making village of Mawdesley.  What made the basket special was that the design can be put down to one man, Mr Cobham of Mawdesley, who reportedly came up with the design in 1830.  The boat basket was invented to carry eggs and butter to Southport market and the design combined the Morecombe Bay cockle basket and other gipsy baskets.  Once Mr Cobham had come up with the design, the manufacture was developed by Thomas Cowley, who owned a local basketmaking firm and then adopted by other basket making firms.

However, I tentatively suggest it is more probable that Mr Cobham actually refined and commercialised existing traditional baskets rather than actually invented a new one.  I say this as the development of the Southport boat is similar to the Sussex trug and although not familiar with the Southport boat, I know in great detail how people in Sussex dispute whether the trug was invented or whether it was ‘refined’ from earlier spale baskets.  I would love to know more if anyone can add to the Southport boat story, please let me know!

Whatever its origins, the Southport boat was a very successful design and was soon made by many basket makers.  The boat is a type of frame basket (a basket made around a frame, rather than self supporting).  It’s rim and handle are made from hoops of split ash and it has ribs which fan out, radiating from the handle.  These ribs are not attached to the rim but added  as the basket is woven.  Interestingly, like the Welsh Cyntell basket, the Southport boat is woven from the top down as opposed to bottom up, as most baskets are.

The basket making industry in Mawdesley began to decline, like many other traditional crafts, during the twentieth century due to all to familiar reasons;  the migration of workers to the cotton mills and rubber works, the invention of plastic, cheap imports and the effect the over extraction of water and river pollution had on the osier beds.

Nowadays, although the shape of the Southport boat will be very familiar to many people,  I have not been able to find any basket makers which list the basket as one of their products.  So please, please – if you know of anyone who still makes Southport boats then get in touch so I can list their details in this post – thank you very much.

www.mawdesley-village.org.uk

www.lancashire.gov.uk – libraries services

www.lancashire.gov.uk – image archive

www.reading.ac.uk

www.ribblelife.org

 

Baskets in Europe  - Maurice Bichard

Complete Book of Basketry – Dorothy Wright

Traditional Country Craftsmen – J. Geraint Jenkins

 

 

Posted in Basketry, Endangered Crafts, Lancashire, Merseyside, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Orkney Chair

For those who don’t know,  the Orkney Islands are a series of about seventy islands which are just off the north east coast of Scotland, only sixteen of them are inhabited and it is to here I am journeying today in my virtual jaunt around British Isles.

Relief map of Scotland

The islands lie in the path of the Gulf Stream and so enjoy a climate milder than would be expected so far north. Being a very flat series of islands they are a tad windy, to say the least, and for this reason the islands are almost totally treeless.  Life in the Orkney Islands has always been mainly based around traditional crofting system of farming, which is a system of subsistence farming common in Scotland.

The Orkney Chair has evolved over time as a response to its locality and it is a really good example of how regional craft objects represent the culture, geography and social and economic history of an area.  Like many other regional crafts it is impossible to pinpoint when Orkney chairs were first made, but it is possible to chart how they evolved from simple stools to the full blown chair associated with the islands today.

Early Orkney Chair

Way back when, Orkney chairs were no more than stools and made almost entirely of straw, only the feet of the chair were wooden.  Now, this was because wood was in scarce supply on an island where there were no indigenous trees and it was sensible to make your furniture from material freely available locally and there was plenty of left over straw from the Black Oats, grown to feed the livestock.   This straw was used to make all manner of household items, not only on the Orkney Islands but in many rural areas across the country.  Referred to as lip work the straw was coiled into baskets (known as cubbies and lubbies on the Orkney Islands), twisted in rope known (simmens), formed into mats and used to create beds.

Orkney Chair Makers

As time went by people began to use driftwood, often from ship wrecks, to form the base of the chair, yet it was still no more than a stool covered in straw.  It will never be known who first had the bright idea of adding a low woven straw back, but someone, at some stage, got fed up of crouching on his stool and updated the design to include a back about two feet tall.  The chair was still kept low so people were able to sit close to the ground and avoid the smoke from the open fires burning in the centre of the room.

Cosy old chair

Later still people began to add hoods to the chairs to keep out the draughts and sometimes added a drawer under the seat.  Apparently this was for the man of the house to keep his ‘things’.  (This makes me wonder if the man in my house has Orkney roots as we currently have four ‘man drawers’ full of ‘man things’).

So the Orkney Chair evolved into chair fit for purpose, it is the perfect shape to keep the heat in and the draughts out and used throughout the centuries to provide a comfy seat.  They were made very upright though as nobody just sat they would be sewing, spinning, whittling or doing something.

Of course nothing ever stays the same and in the 1890s there was a bit of  a shake up in the Orkney chair world.  Up until this point the traditional Orkney chair had been made for use by the maker’s own family or to be sold within a small local market, but in the late 1880′s things started to change.

Countess of Rosebery

Firstly, in the later half of the the 1800′s the Arts and Crafts movement had gained in popularity both in England and Scotland and there was an increase in interest in hand made crafts as opposed to factory goods.  In 1889 The Scottish Home Industries Association was founded by the Countess of Rosebery.  Its aim was to promote and ensure a fair payment of, household crafts in Scotland.   It was probable she was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, which was well established in Scotland.  The Association took the traditional crafts of Scotland and sold them to the great and the good ‘down south’.

Concurrently, or maybe as a result of this, a Mr David Kirkness, a joiner of Kirkwall, began to produce four standardised versions of the traditional Orkney chair.  By doing standard versions he was able to increase his output.  The straw backs were all stitched by outworkers, often fishermen and farmers who stitched in the evenings, or whenever they could.  It is estimated he made about 400 chairs per year, far more than other makers.

Orkney Chair with 'man drawer' by Orkney Furniture.co.uk

This new publicity and increased output meant Orkney Chairs became a must have item for the upper classes, Liberty’s of London stocked them, Queen Victoria had one and apparently even the Queen Mother was very keen to and had some too.  This definitely helped the long time survival of a vernacular design classic and Orkney Chairs are still very much in production today.

One very important feature, which has remained unchanged throughout, is the way in which the Orkney chair is constructed. Locally grown straw is used to make the backs which still have to be stitched by hand.  The chair frames, originally made from driftwood, are now more often made from the best quality wood available and beautifully finished by hand.  It is interesting that the chairs are still evolving.  Benches are now made as well as rocking Orkney chairs and fan backed chairs, all of which reflect a modern phenomena we are able to enjoy in this country – just sitting and relaxing!

Cosy Corner Bench by Orkney Furniture.co.uk

 

Buy an Orkney Chair from one of these lovely people;

www.orkneyfurniture.co.uk

www.scapacrafts.co.uk

www.orkneyhandcraftedfurniture.co.uk

www.orkney-chair.co.uk

 

Find out more about Orkney here; 

www.orkneyjar.com

Relax in Orkney here;

www.orkneyretreat.co.uk

Posted in Basketry, Heritage Crafts, Orkney Islands, Traditional Crafts, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Heritage Craft Association

The Heritage Craft Association.org.uk

For a very long time traditional crafts have existed without any formal support network outside of each individual crafts guild or association.  The Heritage Crafts Association is a new association that has been set up to represent the interests of all traditional crafts which do not fall under the remit of other organisations.  The Crafts Council support and promote contemporary crafts, heritage building crafts have the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, but for a long time traditional crafts which don’t fall under either of these umbrella’s have had to muddle along on their own. Clog makers, trug makers, traditional weavers, besom broom makers and a whole host of others have long known that their crafts skills are an important part of living heritage but there has been no organisation to represent them.  Until now!

The Heritage Crafts Association’s website states;

“The Heritage Crafts Association is the advocacy body for traditional heritage crafts. Working in partnership with Government and key agencies, it provides a focus for craftspeople, groups, societies and guilds, as well as individuals who care about the loss of traditional crafts skills, and works towards a healthy and sustainable framework for the future.” heritagecrafts.org.uk

I think the formation of an organisation to promote and protect tradition crafts as living skills, rather than activities which belong in museums can, only be a good thing.  After all as my journey around the country is proving traditional crafts and the skilled craftspeople who practice them, help to define the individuality of an area and link us to our heritage and locality.

If it is true that human progress is made possible by our ability to pass on knowledge and experience then it is imperative these traditional crafts are seen as part of our living heritage rather than packaged as historic reenactments . They form part of our cultural inheritance and as such we are obliged to pass them on to the next generation.

So, the Heritage Crafts Association can only be a good thing as far as I am concerned.  Prince Charles agrees with me, he has agreed to be the Association’s president, which for an organisation only a couple of years old is no mean feat.  They have also gained support amongst government departments and all this in two years – amazing!

Posted in Endangered Crafts, Heritage Crafts, Traditional Crafts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Owen Jones – Nearly The One and Only Swill Maker

Some crafts need a bit of a push and the craft of swill making is one of them.  So I shall be highlighting some of the crafts I have encountered which are teetering on the edge of extinction, almost consigned to history, but not quite.  The craft skills which have been passed from generation to generation for centuries, now being practiced by just a handful of people.

I shall start with the Cumbrian Oak Swill.  You will recall from a previous post about cumbrian swills, these baskets were once used in many different walks of life;  mining, shipping and farming to name but a few and there was a thriving basket making industry to supply the baskets.  Today this thriving industry has contracted down to one full time swill maker, Owen Jones.  He is the Cumbrian swill maker.  It is quite astonishing to think a whole cottage industry has dwindled down to one individual in a generation.

I am not sure what Owen Jones thinks of his role as custodial of the swill making craft, it must be a bit weird to know everyone is documenting you as an endangered species. There are even videos of Owen Jones making a swill archived at the Museum of Rural Life at the University of Reading,  just in case he decides to jack it all in and retrain as a banker.

But I am happy to say that right now Owen Jones retraining as a banker seems unlikely. I have just ordered my first oak swill from Owen and he didn’t mention any plans to stop. In fact he now has an apprentice, so hopefully the craft of swill making is safe for the moment.

If you would like to purchase an oak swill from Owen Jones then his website is -

oakswills.co.uk .

oak swill

Here you can order an oak swill in a variety of sizes, find out which craft fairs Owen will be demonstrating at and also book yourself on to a Swill Making course.  Now that’s something I fancy, three days in the Lake District learning how to make a swill.   I have got a plan to make a really big one and use it as a chair – yes, obviously I would need to put some legs on it!

Stop press:  Swill making is spreading.  A welsh maker, Ruth Pybus, learnt her skills from Owen Jones and now offers swill baskets alongside the traditional Cyntell, a welsh willow frame basket.  You can find her baskets here -

www.framebaskets.co.uk

 

NB – Are you a maker of swill baskets?   Let me know so I can add you to my list.

 

Posted in Cumbria, Endangered Crafts, Traditional Crafts, Wood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment