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Part 3. Around the British Isles

Part 3 - Around the British Isles

England, Ireland and Wales

English Quilting, old and new is the inviting title of this relatively unknown book by Elizabeth Hake, one of Batsford’s “ladies.” She wrote it in 1937 and it has been cited over the years by such influential authors as Averil Colby and Shiela Betterton. Dorothy Ostler quotes from the book and Hake papers in Traditional British Quilts (Batsford 1987) and in 1988 it was reprinted in the Batsford Classic Needlework series. But it still remains little read and discussed, a pity for her book is a classic example of drawing conclusions which made sense then, but now, in the light of further research and knowledge, are accepted as flawed.

Elizabeth’s book is slim, just 19 pages of text followed by three pages of line drawings: quilted “fillings”, three traditional border patterns and several floral motifs for quilting, all with their templates. A single page index precedes forty-six black and white photographs to illustrate the text: quilts, coverlets, cushions and patchwork including one of a quilter at work at a frame.

English Quilting has as its subtitle “with notes on its West Country Tradition”. It was the finding of an 1840 quilt in Devon, with its provenance, that started Mrs Hake on a line of research that led her to the conclusions that “quilting as a home-industry may have been universal in England up to fifty years ago” i.e. the 1890’s. and was a matter of every-day routine in most English houses, great and small, till within the past hundred years”. This thesis takes five of her pages before she moves onto the particular quilting designs she attributes to the West of England – floral or naturalistic “notably in the introduction of a central basket of flowers”, several quilts are illustrated. These designs are compared and contrasted with Northern and Welsh quilting patterns and style. Unfortunately, she did not realise she was not comparing like with like in terms of age and such designs styles were in fact universal.

Eight pages then cover “quilt making” including a diagram of “an old quilting frame found in Devon” but one that is fairly standard. Wool is her preferred wadding, with needle marking or tailors chalk. She ends this brief chapter by writing “those wishing to learn quilting today, would do well to have a few lessons from an experienced quilter rather than to rely entirely on written directions.” Her last pages are on “Quilting today and tomorrow” where she argues quilting is hand work and as national heritage should be developed and continued, perhaps through Townswomen’s Guilds and the W.I.

The second book in this review is Irish Patchwork, the catalogue of an exhibition assembled by Alex Meldrum and held in London, Spring 1980, having moved from Dublin, Belfast and Cork. This is a well-designed exhibition catalogue: a brief introductory essay by Laura Jones with references and a bibliography, then fifty-six pages of colour photos of the forty-eight patchwork quilts and coverlets. The additional photos show close-up details.

Alex, writing in the Winter 1979 issue of The Quilters Newsletter says “patchwork was first brought to Ireland towards the end of the eighteenth century by the more leisured classes who sewed fine applique work using English glazed chintzes, log cabin or mosaic work with rich fabrics. It was not long into the nineteenth century before patchwork was strongly established as a thrift occupation in cottages and farmhouses, however and seems to have lasted right through the century.” So, neither she or Laura Jones lay claim to a particular style of patchwork or quilting for Ireland, both stress its English roots and derivations. (However, Valerie Williams, curator at the Ulster Folk Museum, has just completed a large scale Irish patchwork documentation project and her forthcoming book will alter this view.)

Jen Jones does identify regional differences, in her Welsh Quilts (Towey 1997) she gives in a passionate, if “not a highly erudite tome”, a comprehensive account of patchwork and quilting in Wales.  This slim Towey Guide – sixty-three pages (including four on Welsh blankets) covers: History, Making a quilt, Method, Types of quilts, Joining and finishing, Provenance, Buying a Welsh quilt, Caring for quilts, Conclusion plus Public collections of quilts and blankets and a Bibliography.

The book is very well illustrated with forty black and white photos of quilts as well as frames, carding tools, frame pegs and templates. There, are fifty-three patchworks and quilts- plus a petticoat- illustrated in colour, unfortunately no dimensions are included.

Jen Jones is a collector and dealer of quilts, she writes from her own wide viewpoint of handling and seeing many hundreds of quilts, thus Method is two paragraphs long but Caring for Quilts runs to three pages of practical and useful advice!

Availability

Elizabeth Hake’s English Quilting Old and New is reasonably easy to find, both original 1937 and reprint copies are available via the Internet booksearches. However look carefully as the price and condition vary widely.

Jen Jones’s Welsh Quilts is in print, ISBN 0-9525790-1-4, priced at £7.00 while Irish Patchwork appears unobtainable, and I have personally never seen another copy in all my second-hand bookshop visits, one worth looking out for, a square green hardback with title and Irish Chain motif in gold.

© Brigid J.Ockelton. March 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.