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Seminar 2011

This year the seminar weekend (21–23 October) was held at Gregynog in Powys, a conference centre belonging to the University of Wales, set in extensive grounds with beautiful gardens.

The weekend began with a trip to the Quilt Association at the Minerva Arts Centre in nearby Llanidloes, for an exhibition of quilts from their collection. After donning white gloves we were able to examine some wonderful old quilts and see up close the workmanship which had gone into them. Staff at the Centre were there to answer our questions and give us more information

Back to Gregynog for a welcome cup of tea, scones and cakes and an opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones in the beautiful 16th century, oak-panelled Blayney Room.  After dinner we enjoyed a ‘show and tell’ in which members brought their own quilts and other related artefacts to talk about.

The seminar programme began in earnest on Saturday morning with a presentation by Kathryn Berenson entitled ‘Quilted Works “of Naples”: the French and Italian context of the Tristan quilts’, which gave a fascinating and very scholarly insight into the world of medieval needlework together with an overview of the historical background to the Tristan quilts in France and Italy.

This was followed by Maxine March’s presentation of her research into a Roll of Honour quilt made in Saskatchewan, Canada during World War II, incorporating the names of servicemen and women from the Marchant Grove area and sent to Britain by the Canadian Red Cross. ‘The Marchant Grove Quilt: a record of a Canadian wartime community’ documented some of the people who made the quilt and those whose names are recorded, bringing alive for us the history of that place and time in a moving and very personal way.

After lunch we heard a presentation by Anita Loscalzo, entitled ‘Commemoration and Grief: two bedcovers and the death of Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales’ which discussed two commemorative quilts in the context of the death of Princess Charlotte, daughter of George, Prince of Wales (later King George 1V), who tragically died at the age of 21 after giving birth to a stillborn son. Her death provoked a huge wave of mourning among the British people, commemorative quilts being just one form of expression of this communal grief.

Research in Progress was the next item on the agenda, where we heard from two members who are currently in the process of researching aspects of quilt history. The first was a look at the work of the Rural Industries Board in Wales during the 1930s; the second, a project to record oral interviews with modern quilt-makers in order to have an account of their work available for future quilt historians. Both projects sounded fascinating and we look forward to hearing the final pieces of work when the papers are completed.

On Saturday evening we were privileged to have a talk by Jen Jones of the Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter. Jen told us how she had come to collect Welsh quilts and her vision for a space in which to exhibit them. Her talk was accompanied by slides of gorgeous quilts, taken by her husband, Roger Clive-Powell, who had earlier given us a useful insight into the art of photographing quilts.

On Sunday morning Jan Rae presented her paper entitled ‘The Comfy: a social history of the British Quilting Company’, which looked at the production of manufactured quilts in the Rawtenstall area of Lancashire during the early 20th century. Some of Jan’s research drew on conversations with former employees who reminisced about their time at the company and the work they did there.

The final paper of the weekend was given by Geoffrey Crumplin on ‘Quilt Blocks: Patterns of Cultural Change’. This talk centred on an examination of the basic square block used by quilters in  the New World during the 18th and19th centuries and the fact that this work was carried out, and communicated to others, with the minimum of tools. Geoffrey’s paper proved to be fairly controversial and discussions with him carried on throughout lunchtime!

From Friday evening and throughout Saturday, a stall for books, quilts and fabric was run by Rachel Nichols. This was extremely popular, with some of us returning several times to inspect the goods and make just one more purchase! The stall raised over £200 for group funds which was an excellent result for Rachel’s hard work.

The whole weekend was stimulating and extremely enjoyable. I learnt almost as much from talking to people during the intervals between papers and over meals as from the excellent papers themselves, since there was always a lot of animated conversation going on wherever one looked. It was my first seminar but everyone was very friendly and eager to chat and I soon felt at ease. What a great experience! It has left me with lots of good memories and plenty to think about.

Report by: Hazel Conway

Photographs: Michael Conway