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Part 5. Traditional British Quilts

Part 5 - British Quilting and Patchwork

Having reviewed books by dead doyennes of quilting history, it is a change to write about living authors and their work. The first is Dorothy Osler’s Traditional British Quilts, published in 1986 by Batsford and now unfortunately, out of print.

Traditional British Quilts is a book of two halves. The first four chapters cover the practicalities of quilting: materials and equipment, traditional quilt design, traditional quilt patterns and making a quilt. Included in chapter two is a comprehensive and authoritative classification of quilt types according to cover and quilting design. If you want to distinguish a framed cover from a strippy, look no further. The second five chapters are concerned with the social and cultural history of traditional British quiltmaking and deal with such questions as: are there regional differences in quilt styles? where did quilting originate, with the rich or the poor? There are three chapters devoted to English, Welsh and Scottish quilts, one on Historical Background and another on Social and Regional Influences.

The whole text is well illustrated with 94 black and white photographs and line drawings plus 10 colour plates, many of wholecloth quilts. Chapter notes are listed at the end of the book with a long Bibliography, Useful Addresses and an appendix of Selected References to Quilts in Wills, Household Inventories and Accounts(1400-1800) plus an excellent index.

This is not a lightweight book but a serious and scholarly study, which repays attention and assimilation,- the FitzRandolph and Colby of our present time, and should be on everyone's' bookshelf. It is ironic that at a time of increasing interest in the study of quilt history with such groups as the BQSG, this excellent volume is out of print!


Traditional British Quilts is not an easy book to find.  It was published by B.T.Batsford (London) in 1997, hardback, ISBN 0 7134 4760 5 and in paperback, 1991, ISBN 0 71344761 3.  This paperback was priced at £4.99, which makes the $70+ that B&N are charging on the Internet look steep. However it is the only one available at last look.  So, keep your eyes open in second hand bookshops and catalogues.

The second book in this review is Quilt Treasures, a readable over view of the (pre-1960) patchwork and quilted objects documented by The Quilters Guild in Britain during their Heritage Project from 1990-93. It is a substantial book, 224 pages with 194 illustrations, black and white or colour photographs and line drawings. Each chapter is an essay covering the range of items seen, and written by well-known experts. Thus:  Why Make a Quilt? and Frame Quilts (Janet Rae),  Patchwork Patterns, plus Applique and Embellishment (Dianah Travis), Traditions of Quilting (Pauline Addams and Bridget Long),  The Quiltmakers (Margaret Tucker), The Outsiders, and Quilts with Special Associations.

There is a complete change with Chapter 9, Reading a Quilt by Deryn O’Connor and Tina Fenwick Smith. The majority of the pieced quilts or bedcovers seen were made from printed cotton and so in this chapter they outline the main developments in the production, dyeing and printing of cotton cloth. More information is presented in tables, with colour illustrations, which detail the weaves/designs/colours etc for the years 1780-1960. Though concise, these thirty pages are an excellent introduction to the dating of English printed cottons. And, as the early chapters make such good starting points for their subjects, Quilt Treasures is a must for anyone at all interested in British patchwork and quilting history. To complete the coverage, after a Glossary and End Notes, the Quilters Guild have included a useful Selected Reading list and two appendices;A Guide to Appreciation (of quilts) and Quilt Care in the Home.

Quilt Treasures was published by Deirdre McDonald Books in association with The Quilters' Guild in 1995, ISBN 1 898094 09 8.Then in America by Rutledge Hill Press,(Nashville, Tenn.)1995, ISBN 1 55853 384 2. This American edition was remaindered and this can often be found on the Internet, it is described as new. About $25-40, depending on the web site. There are several used copies available at the last look, $20-40, only one in England.

( 2021 update - Quilt Treasures is now available for £9.50 as a paperback from the Quilters' Guild Shop ).

If you haven't got a copy of this book but are interested by Culcita, this is the book for your bookshelf: readable, full of information; an excellent first look for all areas of British quilting and patchwork plus an essential guide to dating our fabrics. Treat yourself to it from the Quilters Guild!

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 2001

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.