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Part 34. Fiction with a Textile Twist

Part 34

Some light reading: fiction with a textile twist.

This article is somewhat different from usual as I am going to suggest some fiction, all with a textile basis; I will not comment on them: tastes differ.

First, for some very recently-written historical fiction: two books that have had plenty of publicity; The Last Runaway by Tracey Chevalier (2013) and The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow (2014). Tracey Chevalier's book is set mostly in the America of the 1850s and is the tale of Honor, a Dorset Quaker who emigrates and becomes involved with a runaway slave. The Forgotten Seamstress, (very briefly) is the life story of Maria with a quilt at the heart of her mystery.

Both these books focus on quilts as the textile interest; the first of Tracey Chevalier's novels to do so. Liz Trenow's first book, The Lost Telegram (2012) is a romance loosely grounded in silk fabric production during WWII.

Writing styles have changed and here are a couple of best sellers from the nineteen forties with a wider textile field: The Crowthers of Bankdam (1940) by Thomas Armstrong and his King Cotton (1947). The Crowthers is a family saga of a great Yorkshire wool-trade family, from 1854 to 1921. At well over six hundred pages it is a long read, but very well grounded in details of the wool industry. King Cotton does the same for the troubles of the cotton trade during the American Civil War, again described through a long family saga.

Armstrong continued the wool- family saga with Pilling Always Pays, Sue Crowther's Marriage and Our London Office to bring them up to the nineteen sixties.

Now for a couple of Victorian novels with textiles at their heart and written nearer to the actual times and situations they describe. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (1849)uses the troubles of Lancashire cotton trade that result from the Napoleonic Wars plus Ludditesfor a well-written story while her friend, Elizabeth Gaskell does the same with North and South (1855) - often described as one of the first industrial novels to depict the complex conflicts between employers and workers in the cotton mills of Manchester.

Again, like all these novels mentioned, both are essentially romances, albeit by confident and gifted writers.

So, you pay your money and you take your choice! But it is interesting to see how writing styles have changed-along with book length over the decades.


I have given the date of publication of each novel but availability depends on your choice, Liz Trenlow's and Tracey Chevalier's books are in print and can also be bought as e books. They also both have websites: and

Thomas Armstrong's, Charlotte Bronte's and Elizabeth Gaskell's novels can all be found on the ABE website: at various prices and conditions or in charity shops and second-hand bookshops. The two ladies also have their novels read as audio tape/downloads etc.

The 1718 Coverlet, 69 Quilt Blocks from the Oldest dated British Patchwork Coverlet by Susan Briscoe

The 1718 coverlet is perhaps the most important treasure of the Quilters' Guild and it is splendid to have a new book to put alongside the Quilt Studies volume. It is a very practical book and Susan “hopes you will use it to create your own replica”. If, like me you once sweated blood over a block for Pauline Adams, this may not have much appeal, however, Susan has altered and adapted the blocks for modern methods as well as showing the original techniques.

The full colour cover shows the whole coverlet, there is another full-page illustration before the Title page then a similar-sized illustration of the replica. Next, a one-page Contents, a one-page Foreword by Kaffe Fassett with two close-up illustrations of coverlet blocks. Susan Briscoe writes a one-page Introduction with another full-page coverlet illustration facing-useful for comparison with the replica. Bridget Long writes four pages on A History of the 1718 Coverlet with illustrations, Heather Audin contributes two pages on The Coverlet and The Quilters' Guild. Then follow eight pages of an interview with Pauline Adams on Making the Replica Coverlet, also illustrated. Susan then explains her Coverlet Layout and Numbering (two pages), and Fabrics and Materials (eight pages) looking at the original colours and fabrics and suggesting modern alternatives, twelve pages on Techniques does the same for those includes rotary cutting and machine piecing.

The rest of the book-nearly a hundred pages is the Block Directory: each of the different sixty-nine patterns is described: each pattern has a full page-occasionally two. There are instructions (original and modern), a photo from the coverlet and the necessary templates-full size and the original 181 blocks have been carefully correlated with their sixty-nine patterns.

The book ends with a page for References, Bibliography and Further Reading, and About the Quilters' Guild. A final two pages have a Suppliers, Acknowledgements, About the Author with a one-page Index.

This is very much apractical book, anyone wanting research and an in-depth study of the coverlet will certainly need the BQSG Quilt Studies 4/5 (2003/4) but Susan's book does have unique close-up illustrations of the blocks and, though the blocks have been slightly standardised in size, it is still a brilliant resource for this collection of patterns used in early eighteenth century patchwork.

The 1718 Coverlet, 69 Quilt Blocks from the Oldest dated British Patchwork Coverlet by Susan Briscoe, (David and Charles), 2014, ISBN -13.978.-1-4463-0443-3 or 10.1-4463-0443-7 costs £19.99, hardback and is generally available.

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 2014

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.