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Part 7. More Modern Quiltmakers

Part 7 - More Modern Quiltmakers

As the title suggest this review is concerned with the lives and work of some more contemporary quiltmakers, one a patchworker, one a quilter and the third book contains interviews from a wide range of quilt and fabric artists.

The name of Amy Emms (1904-1998) is instantly recognisable as the North Country quilter, a gifted lady who kept the craft of quilting alive in England through the mid-Twentieth Century doldrums. She started teaching in Sunderland during the war and when she moved to Weardale on her husband's retirement, taught there too. In 1984 she was given the MBE for her "services to quilting" and in 1992 became a member of The Quilters Hall of Fame. Her story and involvement with quilting is told in Amy Emms' Story of Durham Quilting, by Amy Emms, edited by Pam Dawson  ( Search Press, England 1990, ISBN 0 85532 676 X).

After a brief Introduction, twenty seven pages encompass her life story, interspersed with photographs, mostly black and white, of her family, quilting classes, and articles made by her. It is a self effacing and modest account.

The second half of this slim book comprises fifty-six pages of "The craft of Durham quilting" of which six pages explain "Tools and materials used in Durham quilting" before "Begin with a quilted cushion". This section takes you through all the preparations: both the "old " method of drawing round templates onto the cloth and the "new" method of drawing out the whole design on greaseproof paper and transferring it. Several pages of colour photographs show Amy Emms preparing the frame and putting the cushion cover into it, then beginning to quilt. Finally, there are detailed instructions for making up the cushion.

"Hints for beginners" comes next, followed by "The finished designs". These are for a handkerchief sachet, two different cushions, two quilts (no designs) and a general section on garments but no patterns. There are colour photographs of Amy and her work. Seven pages of drawings of infill designs, motifs, borders and corners, plus an index, finish the book.

It is not a scholarly book but it does give general and biographical information and photographs of a known expert quilter at work and as such has its place in the library of anyone interested in the history of Durham or North Country quilting.

Availability Amy Emms' Story of Durham Quilting is available new from the Lacis catalogue ( at $20.00 or from Amazon ( at £11.95 hardback, £7.96 paperback. Second hand copies on the Internet vary a lot in price, £10-$45.

The second quiltmaker featured here did not use wadding or quilting,  so when her daughter-in-law Diana Boston describes them, she called her book: The Patchworks of Lucy Boston  (Colt Books, Cambridge 1995, ISBN 0 905899 21 0). This book is a welcome change; there are no instructions, only splendid colour photographs and interesting details of the how, when and why of all twenty-two of Lucy Boston's patchworks.

The book begins with a seventeen page introductory chapter. The patchworks follow in chronological order; the first a large hexagon throw made in 1938, the last, an unfinished cover for a clavichord, started in 1984. Every coverlet has a name, its dimensions, date, templates used with sizes, backing and border fabrics are all given.  Each page of text faces a photograph of the entire patchwork; when there is more text, the accompanying photograph is a large-scale detail. The information concentrates on the fabrics used and the patchwork construction with relevant extracts from Lucy's letters, illuminating her personality and way of working It is splendid to be able to see the fabrics so clearly as the choice and use of limited fabrics is one of Lucy Boston's fortes, ….."she did not have access to the wealth of fabric now available and used dress or furnishing fabrics collected over fifty years." (p99). Her patches are made over paper and have some similarities with the work of Averil Colby but are a unique and original collection of English pieced work even when using traditional designs such as Mariners Compass. Lucy Boston's own Introduction to an exhibition of her patchworks held in 1976 is reprinted at the beginning of the book.

Diana Boston concludes with a brief four-page overview of her remarkable mother-in-law's life. But as Lucy (1892-1990) had written two autobiographies these are found in Memories  (Colt Books, Cambridge, 1992) which combines Perverse and Foolish, (Bodley Head, 1979) and Memory in a House (Bodley Head 1973) with linking material by her son, Peter Boston.

Availability  The best price for The patchworks of Lucy Boston at £20.00 is from her home at The Manor House, Hemingford Grey on Greenknowe is the name she uses for the house in her award winning children's books and the idea for one of these, The Chimneys of Greenknowe was conceived as she mended her patchwork curtains. Memories is also on sale at this site and there are the opening times for the house (with patchworks on view). Amazon ( ) is asking £25.00 for The Patchworks.

There are not many current books about British quiltmakers, perhaps websites and the increased British quilting magazine coverage provides our information today.  So even though Michele Walker's The Passionate Quilter, (Ebury Press, London, 1990, ISBN 0 85223 885 1) is over ten years old, it still has a reference use, as well as being a snapshot of quiltmakers in the public eye during the late eighties.

The Passionate Quilter is subtitled Ideas and techniques from leading quilters and, after a brief introduction, starts with Traditional Quiltmaking. Divided into Northumberland Quilting, Quilt Marking and Welsh Quilting, each short chapter is an interview with an elderly lady expert. There are appropriate colour photographs as illustrations and this section would nicely complement reading the historical chapter from Amy Emms' Story of Durham Quilting.

The main body of the book is Contemporary Quiltmaking. Michele Walker takes fourteen quiltmakers and writes about their lives, influences, how they design and their particular techniques, finishing with future developments. There are copious photographs of recent work and each quiltmaker is photographed working. The quiltmakers are: Michele Walker (Folded Patterns), Jean Sheers (Pieced Pictures), Eiluned Edwards (Batik Texture), Deidre Amsden (Pattern and Tone), Janet Bolton( Appliqué Pictures). Lucinda Gane (Mosaic Patchwork), Liz Bruce (Stencilled Images), Pauline Burbidge (Fabric Collage), Linda Straw (Machine Appliqué), Lucy Goffin (Stitched Appliqué), Gillian Horn (Challenging Fabrics), Jo Budd (Painting with Fabric), Setsuko Obi (Hand sewn Patchwork) and Mary Fogg (Strip Piecing).  The whole book is well set out, extremely attractive, readable and informative.

The final twenty pages cover Quiltmaking Techniques, patchwork quilting and appliqué, hand and machine sewn. Perhaps the main attraction is that these are based on Michele Walker's own experience and those of the featured quiltmakers. Again, well illustrated. The book finishes with Acknowledgements, Useful Addresses and a two page Index.

Availability. Not many second hand copies available on the Internet but Amazon( ) is offering new hardbacks at £16.99 and paperbacks at £12.81.

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 2002

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.