Specialist Group Focus: British Quilt Study Group


The British Quilt Study Group is the eldest of the specialist groups of The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles. Formed in 1998, BQSG has celebrated its twentieth year this year and celebration is not an exaggeration. We had an amazing Gallery at the Festival of Quilts, “Our Quilt Heritage”, which showcased the range of research our members have undertaken. Our members stewarded the Gallery and showed visitors what a huge variety of textiles, quilting, patchwork and appliqué we have in the UK – and what they reveal about the history of the object studied. With the 1718 Silk Patchwork Coverlet also on show in the Guild exhibition area, there was a feast for lovers of heritage quilts.

53.290.1 Abergele c1800 patchwork corner fan compressed

Those who spent time with us, learned about Signature Quilts, Crazy Patchwork, North Country, Welsh and Scottish quilts and the different dyes and fabrics you can identify in examples of mosaic patchwork piecing – enabling you to date when they were made. [Note to self – don’t forget to label the quilts you make – it makes the work of the historian so much easier].

62.43 Patchwork bedcover Anne Pritchard close-up small rayed sun compressed

Membership of the Group has increased by more than 10% this year and nine of our new members came along to our seminar in October. It was hugely enjoyable for all who attended. Seeing behind the scenes at St Fagans National Museum of History with the Curator, Elen Phillips, showing us a selection of their collection of quilts not usually on display to the public. Then we had the chance to wander round the oldest of the open-air museums in the UK. Everyone felt there was more to see and we would have to return.

Elen Phillips compressed

Elen Phillips, Curator at St Fagans National Museum of History showing BQSG members items from their quilt collection.

The seminar itself had two visiting speakers. Dr Jane Moore, from Cardiff University, spoke about Needlework and the Romantic Poets and shocked us with her tales of how circumscribed and frustrating were the lives of the women in the poets’ families. We then had the history of the Welsh Woollen industry “From Necessity to Luxury” from Mark Lucas, Curator of the Welsh National Wool Museum. It was a widespread industry with over 900 mills in Wales of which only a few working mills remain.

53.290.1 Abergele c1800 patchwork compressed

The highlights, as ever, were the members who gave presentations of the work they have been doing. Joan Foster spoke about the extent of quilting competitions in local shows in the north east of England in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Kate Smith told us the story of a North Country quilt made for a wedding in 1918 and how she tracked its history and met the niece of the recipients. Lastly, Pauline Macaulay told us about the British Quilt revival during the 1970s – a trip down memory lane for many of us. Of course, the discussions after the presentations, over coffee breaks and in the bar are always stimulating and fun. The ‘Show and Tell’ entertains and educates, and it’s amazing how many people manage to find space in their suitcases for a second-hand book or heritage quilt from the sales table.


So, if you think you might enjoy being a member of the British Quilt Study Group – don’t hesitate – click here to become a member of The Guild so you can join us now. In addition to The Guild member benefits, BQSG members will receive at least 2 issues of our newsletter, Culcita, a copy of our academic journal, Quilt Studies (which will include the papers from the seminar), a chance to attend next year’s seminar (visiting Farnham in Surrey) and a welcoming gift of Dorothy Osler’s very readable Twenty Years A-Growing – quilt history research in Britain over the last twenty years.

Janice Lawson

BQSG Co-ordinator

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