Wholecloth quilts: A researcher’s view

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At first glance, wholecloth quilts may not seem to provide much in the way of resources for research – two pieces of fabric stitched together with a filling between. But a quick look through the contents of ‘Quilt Studies’, the annual research journal published by the British Quilt Study Group (one of The Guild’s five Specialist Groups) soon dispels this thought.

Published papers from the last twenty years have researched in depth the construction, the patterns used, the areas where they were made and the social history of wholecloth quilts as well as discovering the individual history of particular quilts. Through the research done for these papers, amongst much more, we have learnt about different ways of setting up a wholecloth quilt in a frame ready for quilting, discovered the history behind the particular style of wholecloth quilts made in Hawick in the Scottish Borders, learnt much about the work of the Rural Industries Bureau in relation to wholecloth quilting in Durham and South Wales and have been intrigued with the provenance of a quilt from North Yorkshire.

Welsh quilt from Aberdare possibly Rural Industries, 1930s DSCN9391

Welsh quilt from Aberdare possibly Rural Industries, 1930s.

At the British Quilt Study Group annual seminar, as well as the presentation of formal papers there is also a chance for members to show and exchange thoughts with other members about more informal research that they may be doing for their own interest and not necessarily for publication. Wholecloth quilts featured heavily at our last seminar with a ‘poster’ presentation about the quilts made (or not) by Joe the Quilter – which also made use of another member’s method of tracing wholecloth quilting patterns from quilts in order to show the detail. A presentation featuring the further research into the group of quilters from Spennymoor, Co Durham, was given, along with a ‘show and tell’ of North Country quilting templates and designs and another about quilts made for the Rural Industries Bureau.

Wholecloth quilting templates from County Durham, late 1800s - early 1900s DSCN7177

Wholecloth quilting templates from County Durham, late 1800s – early 1900s.

Recently, after winning the Guild’s Amy Emms Award, a British Quilt Study Group member studied the many different ways quilters dealt with turning the patterns in the corners of their wholecloth quilts. Much of the research undertaken highlights areas where further research could be done and so there is never a shortage of topics to discover!

Liz Nally

British Quilt Study Group

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