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Part 1. Mavis FitzRandolph

Part 1 - Mavis FitzRandolph

Mavis FitzRandolph, Traditional Quilting, ( Batsford,  London , 1954)

Mavis FitzRandolph and Florence M. Fletcher, Quilting. Traditional Methods and Design (Dyrad Press, 1955)

Traditional Quilting, Its Story and Practice by Mavis FitzRandolph is a well written and comprehensive review of quilting in England and Wales up to the date of writing in the 1950s. Mrs FitzRandolph was a social historian whose interest in crafts in general was inspired by traditional peasant embroidery which she saw while working for a Quaker relief mission in the Eastern Carpathians during the 1920s. She believed that such crafts must have long since died out in industrialised societies but on her return to England she took part in a survey of rural industries and found that many country crafts were still alive and well. Her interest in quilting dated from the time when she was working for the Rural Industries Board and encountered Welsh quilting being actively carried on in miners’ cottages.

The main importance of her book lies in the first hand information she collected while working for the Rural Industries Board, information largely gathered “chiefly in conversation with quilters and owners of old quilts with some correspondence to clear up doubtful points”. Her purpose was “to collect the traditional knowledge and put it on record”. Her first area of interest was South Wales and the quilting traditions she found there remained her main focus and provided benchmarks by which she assessed the merits of North Country traditions and practice when these came to her attention. Though she mentions, and illustrates, some patchwork, quilting is the subject of the book.

She looks at how quilts are made: methods by which they are set into the frame, “padding” templates, and pattern-marking are all covered and there is a chapter on quilting designs. Mrs FitzRandolph concentrates on quilting within the lifetime of her informants but as she started her notes before the Second World War this takes memory back to the 1880s through to the first half of this century. It makes a very readable story.

The text is illustrated with 57 half-tone plates, nearly 30 of which are quilts from various periods and most of which have provenance. Examples of quilting are shown and there is a series of 16 excellent photographs of a quilter at work, needle marking, setting the quilt in the frame, and quilting, specially posed for the book by Mrs Fletcher. There are also some line drawings within the text showing quilting templates and pattern units, both North Country and Welsh. Three appendices deal briefly with: 1.historical references to quilting from the 15th century to the 18th century, 2.The famous story of Joe Hedley, the Northumberland Quilter*, and 3. Quilters’ earnings from 1890 to 1950. There is also an index.

Mavis FitzRandolph was not a quilter herself but she collaborated with Florence M. Fletcher (the quilter mentioned above who appears in photographs in Traditional Quilting) in the production of an excellent little practical book Quilting, Traditional Methods and Design. This book deals with apparatus and tools, designs, template making and methods of working. There are 63 line drawings and four photographs, three of quilts and one of a contempory housecoat. It went into several editions, each with a quite different cover, pink, turquoise, and purple- but there is little significant difference between editions. Only the introductory page Quilting differs slightly and the (brief) Bibliography is updated.

Availability

Traditional Quilting is not an easy book to find but at least one is available in current booklists-it may be best to go on a booksellers’ waiting list, although if you have access to the Internet is may be possible to obtain a copy more easily. Expect to pay at least £20, maybe up to £35 for a copy in a dust wrapper and in good condition. Incidentally, despite having been designed by that great name in the textile world, Edith Marx, some might think that the dust wrapper has a “lacey” look to it but don’t be put off, the contents are not lightweight! 

Quilting, Traditional Methods and Design is easy to find. Expect to pay less than £5-even less than that for a copy in poor condition. Keep your eyes on the pamphlet box as it is rather thin for the bookshelves.

*For an account of the life and events surrounding the murder of Joe Hedley (Joe the Quilter) see Traditional British Quilts by Dorothy Osler  (Batsford, London 1987) p113 f.

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 1999-2000


 PLEASE NOTE - An indication is given of the availability and market price of the book at the time of writing and may not reflect today's availability and price.